Pandemic takes a toll on climate talks - GulfToday

Pandemic takes a toll on climate talks

Climate change

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Meena Janardhan

The tentacles of the coronavirus pandemic are spreading far and wide – affecting almost every human activity. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to impact climate change negotiations as well as the United Nations has had to cancel several meetings or go digital.

Rescheduled events include landmark climate change negotiations hosted by the United Nations. On March 23, the United Nations Climate change secretariat announced that due to the novel coronavirus disease it is going digital and embracing telecommuting and teleconferencing options in order to carry on with its work.

The COP26 UN climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow in November has been postponed due to COVID-19. Dates for a rescheduled conference in 2021, hosted in Glasgow by the UK in partnership with Italy, will be announced after further discussion with parties.

Shyam Saran, former Indian Special Envoy and Chief Negotiator on Climate Change, told Mongabay-India, recently, “Definitely it (the climate talks and COP-26) will be impacted. These meetings (the conferences before the Glasgow summit) are important but you see what is most important at this point in time. We should also think at this moment that whether it is climate change or sustainable development goals these are all connected (with the crisis like COVID-19).”

Startling environmental data is pouring in from across the globe. Home to 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, India has recently reported that air pollution levels have started to drop dramatically.  In New Delhi, where flights have been diverted because smog shrouded the airport, the air pollution levels have dropped 71 per cent in just one week.

Other reports have come in about natural landscapes becoming more visible and rare sightings of animals venturing out of their habitats. Social media users shared pictures of how the river Yamuna River is looking cleaner and officials have said that the closure of industries has had a role to play. Along the coast of the eastern state of Odisha, over 475,000 endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles have come ashore to dig their nests and lay eggs without any fear of poachers or inquisitive tourists.

However, the World Meteorological Organization issued a statement that read: “Efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic have reduced economic activity and led to localized improvements in the air quality. But it is too early to assess the implications for concentrations of greenhouse gases, which are responsible for long-term climate change.”

Inger Andersen, head of the United Nations Environment Programme has cautioned that it is not a “silver lining” of the coronavirus pandemic, “Visible, positive impacts – whether through improved air quality or reduced greenhouse gas emissions – are but temporary, because they come on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress”.

She pointed out how the pandemic will lead to a massive increase in the amounts of medical and hazardous waste generated and said that studies point out that fossil fuel use would need to be cut by 10% for an entire year to make a difference to the global carbon dioxide levels.

The COP26 is critical because the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement will be enforced this year and that necessitates the nations to submit their plans to achieve “net zero carbon” by 2050 and reduce the carbon emissions substantially to stop global warming. It is not only supposed to steer the global climate change talks ahead but it is also expected that countries would give new or ambitiously revise their already submitted voluntary national climate action plans.

Experts feel that during the negotiations the developed countries may deny climate finance and transfer of clean energy technology to developing and poor nations as their resources are drained due to the pandemic.

The tell-tale physical signs of climate change, such as increasing land and ocean heat, accelerating sea level rise and melting ice, contributed to making 2019 the second warmest year on record according to a new report compiled by a network led by the World Meteorological Organization. The report documents the increasing impacts of weather and climate events on socio-economic development, human health, migration and displacement, food security and land and marine ecosystems.

Not just the climate change negotiations, the coronavirus outbreak has also impacted the meeting schedule of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD is the first comprehensive global agreement that addresses all aspects relating to biodiversity. Two meetings, previously scheduled for May 2020, have tentatively been rescheduled for August and September 2020, respectively.

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