UN chief urges leaders to start Cop26 climate negotiations online

António Guterres says Covid pandemic must not halt preparatory work for key summit in Glasgow

Governments must step up their efforts ahead of vital climate talks this year by agreeing to negotiate formally online for the first time, the UN secretary general has said.

António Guterres told a meeting of governments and officials on Monday that formal negotiations for the Cop26 summit must be begun virtually owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and the constraints it had placed on governments meeting in person.

He said: “Preparatory negotiations for Cop26 will need to take place virtually … We simply cannot allow the pandemic to keep us from working together on the crucial pathway to Glasgow. Although there will be challenges, we must adapt. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.”

Informal discussions on how countries plan to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement have been taking place for more than a year. Officials from the UK have led the way, in their role as hosts of the Cop26 talks, which last spring were postponed by a year to a new date of this November in Glasgow.

The formal negotiations that are needed for countries to make decisions normally take place months ahead of the annual summit. These talks are vital in order to ensure that countries have taken key decisions ahead of time, rather than snarling up the two-week summit.

Many developing countries are concerned that they will find it hard to participate in formal negotiations online, however, owing to technical issues and their smaller number of personnel devoted to the talks. At the annual Cop summits, developed countries such as EU member states and emerging economies such as China routinely send scores of negotiators, but many developing countries can send only a handful of delegates.

Guterres sought to reassure them, saying: “We can conduct our business in an inclusive and transparent manner.”

He said the UN was striving to make participation easier for all countries. “I have directed UN officials around the world to make offices and venues available to allow for all countries to participate in virtual negotiations,” he said. “We will support this process in every way possible to ensure its success.”

Past summits, including the Copenhagen summit in 2009, have failed or run into problems when too many issues were left to be resolved in the final two-week meeting. By contrast, the Paris summit in 2015 was a resounding success, partly because the French hosts orchestrated 18 months of talks in advance, ensuring decisions had already been reached on key issues well ahead of the December 2015 conference.

At the last UN climate talks, in Madrid in December 2019, countries spent more than two weeks wrangling over the intricacies of global carbon markets, which are supposed to be one way of bringing down greenhouse gas emissions. Those talks ended inconclusively, leaving the issue on the table for Cop26.

Guterres voiced his concern that these wranglings, if not sorted out before Cop26, would get in the way of agreement this November. The UN wants all countries to come up with plans for net zero emissions by around mid-century, with shorter-term plans to reduce emissions by 2030, for Cop26 to be a success.

Guterres said: “We must send a clear message to the parties: it is time to wrap up negotiations and move towards its full implementation … This issue [of carbon markets] cannot continue to be deferred, Cop after Cop after Cop. We need a political decision.”

While the UK is still hopeful that the talks themselves will take place in person, with participation from civil society, some restrictions are likely still to be in place by then, and work is ongoing to ensure such constraints can be managed. In the meantime, however, senior figures in the talks are concerned that informal discussions will not be enough to bring about a successful conclusion at Glasgow.

Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s top climate official, told a virtual audience at the London School of Economics last week that her secretariat, which runs the talks, was exploring ways to run formal negotiations online. She said meetings were taking place in a roster of various time zones, to ensure that no country was disadvantaged, and that developing countries were being provided with technical assistance to ensure they could take part.

The UK as host of Cop26 cannot decree that negotiations should take place formally online. Developed and developing country representatives, known as the Cop Bureau, will need to agree, as they did to the postponement last year.


Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The good, the bad and the Irn-Bru: how Cop26 played out
The climate summit is winding down after 12 days of talks, protests, deals, frustration and a fizzy drink

Libby Brooks

12, Nov, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Chaotic scenes outside Cop26, as world descends on Glasgow
Complaints about wait to get in hint at poor organisation at multinational summit

Fiona Harvey, Nina Lakhani, Patrick Greenfield, Tom Ambrose, Severin Carrell

01, Nov, 2021 @2:55 PM

Article image
Cop26: deadline for agreeing crucial climate deal passes but negotiations set to continue – as it happened
Deadline passes for global deal to tackle climate change but negotiations to continue

Bibi van der Zee, Tom Levitt ,Matthew Taylor and Alan Evans

12, Nov, 2021 @7:18 PM

Article image
Cop26 day 3: model projects 1.9C of heating; Sunak makes London net zero pledge – as it happened
Catch up on all the events in Glasgow on Wednesday, where the focus was on finance

Alan Evans and Matthew Taylor

03, Nov, 2021 @6:33 PM

Article image
UK urged to tie green recovery from Covid-19 crisis to Cop26 summit
Climate experts push Britain, as talks host, to work on ‘zero carbon’ route from pandemic

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

28, May, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Ratchets, phase-downs and a fragile agreement: how Cop26 played out
Last-minute hitch on coal almost reduced Alok Sharma to tears as Glasgow climate pact made imperfect progress

Fiona Harvey in Glasgow

15, Nov, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Cop26: world poised for big leap forward on climate crisis, says John Kerry
Exclusive: upbeat US climate envoy anticipates big announcements from key players at Glasgow talks

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

11, Oct, 2021 @11:03 PM

Article image
Cop26: the goal of 1.5C of climate heating is alive, but only just
The Glasgow deal makes incremental progress on the climate crisis but largely kicks the can down the road

Damian Carrington in Glasgow

13, Nov, 2021 @7:55 PM

Article image
‘It’s incredibly rainy’: Glasgow welcomes Cop26 activists amid waste crisis
Sense of chaos and trepidation, as well as excitement, permeates city ahead of opening of climate summit

Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

29, Oct, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
UN climate talks in Glasgow Cop26: India targets net zero by 2070 – as it happened
World leaders have convened on Glasgow for the first day of the UN’s climate conference

Alan Evans and Tom Levitt

01, Nov, 2021 @6:54 PM