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US envoy Kerry rejects calls for new delay to COP26 climate conference

Climate change

US envoy Kerry rejects calls for new delay to COP26 climate conference

Green group warns of ‘stitch-up’ if developing world not fairly represented in Glasgow due to Covid-19 restrictions

‘This needs to be an in-person event and it needs to take place now,’ John Kerry, special US presidential envoy for climate, said of COP26 on a visit to India. © Harish Tyagi/EPA/Shutterstock

US climate envoy John Kerry has rejected calls to postpone November’s COP26 climate conference in the UK, despite fierce objections from many of the world’s biggest green groups who say the Glasgow summit should be pushed back.

More than 1,500 climate non-profits, including Greenpeace, last week called for the conference to be delayed, saying it would be too difficult for developing countries to be fairly represented at the summit due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The heated debate about whether the meeting should proceed has put the UK government in a difficult position and raised questions about whether it has done enough to prepare for the event.

Speaking to the Financial Times from New Delhi, where he has held two days of talks with Indian officials, Kerry said the Glasgow conference could not be delayed again having already been postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

“This needs to be an in-person event and it needs to take place now,” the former US secretary of state said. “We don’t have the luxury of a lot of time . . . The urgency of the issue now requires that we connect and get going.”

He called on prospective delegates to “be responsible, get the vaccine and come to the COP”.

With up to 20,000 delegates set to arrive in Glasgow from nearly 200 countries, the logistics of hosting the world’s biggest climate summit in the midst of a global pandemic have been extremely challenging.

Farmers clear sheep from an advancing fire in Turkey this summer, one of many conflagrations put down to the effects of climate change © Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images

Just seven weeks before the start of the meeting, the UK has been scrambling to provide vaccinations to delegates who would not otherwise have them.

The special programme run by the UK and UN administered its first doses last week. But climate groups say that not enough delegates will be vaccinated in time for the event, putting those from developing countries at a disadvantage.

“If COP26 goes ahead as currently planned, I fear it is only the rich countries and NGOs from those countries that would be able to attend,” said Mohamed Adow, head of the Nairobi-based Power Shift Africa think-tank. “[This] opens the door for a rich nations’ stitch-up of the talks.”

The UK’s requirements for quarantine — vaccinated delegates arriving from “red list” countries must quarantine for five days — are also an obstacle for many delegations. The UK government has said it would pay for the hotel costs of delegates who have to quarantine.

The climate targets set by the 2015 Paris climate pact — which aims to limit global warming to 1.5C — are not yet sufficient to meet that goal.

At the Glasgow summit, negotiators will finalise key details of the Paris accord rule book, and work to agree a deal to phase out new coal power stations, which COP26 president Alok Sharma has said he wants to “consign to history”.

On Monday, António Guterres, UN secretary-general, UK prime minister Boris Johnson and US president Joe Biden will hold a roundtable climate discussion with other heads of state on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Setting tougher climate targets, and getting more Covid-19 vaccines distributed around the world, are expected to be key topics of discussion.

The US is under fire for having failed so far to pay its fair share of climate finance assistance, as part of a promised $100bn in funding from wealthy countries.

Kerry vowed that “the US is going to do its part to pull together the $100bn”, but declined to provide details on how much money or when might be forthcoming, other than to reiterate that an announcement would be made before COP26.

He suggested that some calls to delay the summit might be motivated by things other than health concerns. “Some people would just as soon not confront choices that they have to make at COP,” he said.

Kerry said he hoped India might update its climate targets (also known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs) by formally incorporating its renewable energy goals. It is one of several of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases that are under pressure to improve their targets.

“It would be a terrific thing for the world, if India took what it is going to do anyway, and just put it in the NDC,” he said. “As a friendly suggestion, I’ve suggested they think about ways in which they can tweak the NDC as they go on.”

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