The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) planned for Glasgow may have been postponed due to the Covid-19 lockdown but India's role in the summit remains crucial.
The 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is set to be postponed to the latter half of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic related travel restrictions. The UK, as the President-designate of the next summit, has sought the delay to ensure the meeting to set the global agenda on tackling climate change can take place in its usual format - allowing world leaders to participate in person.
Even before the postponement seemed inevitable, India had emerged as a key partner for the UK in moving the talks on to the next set of emission targets. The UK being appointed the first co-chair of the Governing Council on the India-led global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), established by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was heralded as a major step in the UK-India partnership on climate action. With the US playing a difficult role in driving international consensus as President Donald Trump pulls the country out of agreed plans, the UK no doubt needs India on its side.
The annual UN talks, scheduled to be held in Glasgow in November this year, had already been postponed in April as the pandemic lockdown took hold around the world. It was initially hoped that the summit could be reconvened in the first half of 2021 instead. However, the UK has now proposed November 1-12 next year as the new dates.
“The incoming Presidency has concluded that, given the uneven spread of Covid-19, this date would present the lowest risk of further postponement,” notes a letter from the UK Cabinet Office to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The venue of the next summit is likely to remain in Scotland, with most world leaders including Modi expected to attend. COP26 has been dubbed the most important round of talks since the global Paris Agreement to tackle climate change was secured in 2015. Announcing the first postponement in April, COP26 President-designate and UK Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma said: "The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting Covid-19. "That is why we have decided to reschedule COP26. We will continue working tirelessly with our partners to deliver the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis and I look forward to agreeing a new date for the conference."
The idea of a virtual conference had been suggested but there are fears that it would limit the impact of activists pushing for more urgent change. The year 2020 marks the date by which countries are expected to come forward with stronger emissions cuts to meet the goals of the UN Paris Accord, which commits countries to curb temperatures to 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The pandemic will add a further dimension to the next round of talks, including calls on governments to ensure that the economic recovery from the lockdown is greener and geared towards areas such as renewables, cycling and tree planting. “The UK is already working closely with India as a joint force for good on climate change,” notes Acting UK High Commissioner to India Jan Thompson. “This year is a crucial year for our climate, and I am confident that UK-India leadership on climate action can deliver substantial progress towards reducing emissions and helping to build resilience globally,” she said. Nadia Hatink is a UK-based columnist with a focus on South Asian affairs.