The European Commission “took note” of the UK’s announcement to postpone this year’s UN climate summit but stressed its “strong commitment” to the global climate agenda, as nations grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This makes sense,” said Frans Timmermans, the EU Commission vice-president in charge of the European Green Deal, which aims to steer the bloc towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“We acknowledge that global diplomatic activity is currently slowed down by the coronavirus crisis. And we understand that this decision is taken to avoid that COP26 would fail to meet expectations as a result of insufficient participation,” Timmermans said in a statement.
But the Dutchman also seized the opportunity to reaffirm the Commission’s commitment to the global climate agenda and the European Green Deal.
“We will not slow down our work domestically or internationally to prepare for an ambitious COP26, when it takes place,” he said.
The Commission has already started putting together a cost-benefit analysis to raise the EU’s 2030 ambitions and cut emissions by 50-55% compared to 1990 levels, Timmermans said.
That plan “is on track, and the Commission will stick to that”, the Dutchman stressed, saying the detailed impact study will be presented in September as planned.
“The same goes for the work necessary to submit an enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution to the UNFCCC in line with our commitment under the Paris Agreement,” he added.
In the European Parliament, lawmakers reacted along similar lines.
“The efforts to save lives and fight COVID-19 remain a top priority,” said Pascal Canfin, a French centrist MEP who chairs the Parliament’s committee on environment and public health.
“However, this is a delay – not a reason to stop the necessary work to tackle climate change,” he added, saying “the COP26 in Glasgow must still be the moment when the world decides to be more ambitious and close the gap in order to live up to the Paris agreement.”
The EU “must finalise the EU Climate Law with an upgraded -55% 2030-target in due time before COP26,” Canfin sad in a statement.
“The fight against climate change cannot be lock-downed. Our work with the EU Climate Law and more in general the European Green Deal continues as planned,” added Jytte Guteland, a Swedish socialist MEP who steers the EU’s proposed climate law through Parliament.
Climate think tank E3G reacted in a similar fashion, saying postponing COP26 was “a responsible decision” to make for health and safety reasons.
But E3G chief executive Nick Mabey also urged world governments not to take their eyes off the climate emergency.
“While we must urgently tackle the health crisis and its social and economic ripple effects, we can’t forget that the clock is still ticking in the race to stop climate change. As the world moves to recover from COVID, building climate cooperation through a rescheduled COP26 will be part of the new global effort needed to limit multiple future global crises,” he said.
Nigel Topping, the UK’s high-level champion for COP26, also believes postponing COP26 was “the right decision” to make.
“The question cities, regions, businesses, and civil society organisations will now be focused on is how we can bounce back to a better position than we started,” he said in a statement.
“This means building a more inclusive and resilient economy that addresses climate change and environmental breakdown, while at the same time protecting human health and tackling social inequalities. These imperatives are locked together in reality and have to be locked together in the delivery. The case for leadership and action is even more urgent than before.”
[Edited by Sam Morgan]