02 Apr 2020, 13:31
Rachel Waldholz

COP26 delay no excuse to put off climate action, German officials and activists say

Clean Energy Wire

The decision to postpone the COP26 UN climate negotiations because of the coronavirus pandemic drew praise and concern from Germany. Government officials, experts and advocates said the decision was necessary, but should not be allowed to reduce the urgency with which nations confront climate change. “Understandable, but a pity,” tweeted Andreas Kuhlmann of the German Energy Agency (dena). “All the more important that other circles continue to work on the fundamental questions.” German environment state secretary Jochen Flasbarth retweeted a message from European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans, who wrote “The EU Commission will not slow down our work domestically or internationally to prepare for an ambitious COP26.” Flasbarth thanked Timmermans for his "very clear message," adding that the postponement "does not release us from delivering what we have mutually agreed" in the Paris Agreement. “That is why we will now conduct the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in April as planned - but digitally,” he said in another tweet, referring to annual climate talks hosted by the German government. A representative of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats said countries must use the extra time to hammer out an agreement on carbon markets, one of the key sticking points in recent climate talks. “In view of the impending global recession, international cooperation is more important than ever to avoid unnecessarily high costs and to strengthen economic development in the countries of the global South,” said the FDP’s Lukas Köhler in a statement. 

German environmentalists supported the postponement, but emphasized that any response to the coronavirus pandemic should take climate change into account. “Exactly right. Obviously COP26 cannot take place during a pandemic,” tweeted German climate activist Luisa Neubauer. “However, the year 2020 remains decisive for complying with Paris. We will have to cope with the two crises, sooner rather than later.” Fridays for Future Germany also said the decision was “reasonable”. “But now we have to make sure that after the catastrophic COP in Madrid we prevent any delay in climate action,” the group tweeted. “The response to #COVID-19 must not ignore Paris.” Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) echoed that point. “Recovery packages must protect us from the worst consequences of the corona crisis and at the same time prepare us for other crises,” said Ann-Kathrin Schneider of BUND in a statement. “Green answers to the consequences of COVID-19 for our economy can save us from the most catastrophic effects of the next crisis on the horizon, the climate crisis.” The environmental group Germanwatch said the delay might even prove to be an advantage, since the conference will now take place after the U.S. presidential election in November. “If Donald Trump is voted out of office as U.S. President in November, the COP next year could even be a major breakthrough in climate policy,” said Germanwatch political director Christoph Bals in a statement. The Trump administration has resisted international efforts to step up action on climate change and declared its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The COP26 conference, originally scheduled to take place this November in Glasgow, is seen as crucial for international climate action. Countries are supposed to come to the meeting with new commitments to cut carbon emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement. But the coronavirus pandemic has upended the negotiations that usually precede the COP, and on Wednesday (1 April), the UN and host country Britain decided to postpone the meeting until 2021.

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