Apr 2, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Making sense of the UN's climate conference coronavirus delay

Ben Geman, author of Generate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The scuttling of November's pivotal UN climate conference is the starkest sign yet of how coronavirus is throwing a wrench into efforts to combat global warming. But like the wider relationship between the coronavirus and climate initiatives, the ramifications are ... complicated.

Driving the news: UN officials announced Wednesday that the annual summit to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, is postponed until some unknown time next year.

Why it matters: Axios' Amy Harder reported yesterday that this isn't just another major convention scuttled by coronavirus.

  • The event was to be a make-or-break moment for countries to increase their emissions-cutting ambitions — the most important annual climate conference since the Paris Agreement was struck in 2015.

The intrigue: The conference was to start just days after the U.S. presidential election, a contest that will be immensely important for global climate diplomacy.

  • President Trump is pulling the U.S. out of Paris. Rival Joe Biden is vowing not only to remain in, but also to toughen U.S. policies and convene talks to boost other nations' ambitions.

What they're saying: "The current situation is awful, but it unintentionally creates some needed distance between the U.S. election and the [UN conference], which had been scheduled to start six days later," said Andrew Light, who was a senior climate aide in Obama's state department.

  • "I’m not even sure we’ll know the results of the election by then. It’s no secret some countries had been looking at various options for how they would position themselves in part responding to the results of our election," he tells me.

Another veteran of global climate talks agrees with that sentiment and also suggests other reasons why the delay, occurring for tragic reasons, could be tactically helpful.

  • “I don’t think a lot of countries are in a great place to increase their ambition this year,” the source tells me, adding that the economic and human consequences of COVID-19 will be better known.

The big picture: Amy notes that some advocates, including the International Energy Agency, are calling on governments to incorporate policies into economic recovery plans that are more supportive of clean energy and action on climate change.

  • “Soon, economies will restart. This is a chance for nations to recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st-century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient," Patricia Espinosa, the top UN climate official, said in announcing the delay.

But, but, but: Those opportunities aside, the delay comes as many nations' efforts to transform the goal of Paris — to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius — into concrete steps were already faltering, Amy writes.

  • The Guardian adds that "several prominent climate experts had feared that delaying the talks would mean governments eased off on pursuing stronger commitments to fulfill the Paris goals."

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 6,377,596 — Total deaths: 380,180 — Total recoveries — 2,728,363Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,831,806 — Total deaths: 106,180 — Total recoveries: 463,868 — Total tested: 17,757,838Map.
  3. 2020: N.C. governor says GOP should plan for a "scaled-down convention."
  4. Public health: Protests against police brutality threaten coronavirus response — Controlling the virus in nursing homes won't be easy.
  5. Business: More than 1 in 6 black workers lost jobs between February and April.
  6. Tech: Zoom revenues and profit soar as pandemic propels videoconferencing.

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Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day — prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Protesters were still out en masse even as curfews set in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) slammed the New York Police Department late Tuesday following reports of police kettling in protesters on Manhattan Bridge.

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Election official at a polling place at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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