The year 2020 is pivotal for the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. This year, the State Parties will submit their enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), reflecting progression from their first set of commitments in 2015-16. In addition to outlining the concerned State’s climate policy for the next five years, NDCs are a measure of State’s commitment to climate action.
Moreover, given that the obligatory implementation of NDCs will begin from 2021, 2020 is key to mitigating climate change’s harmful impacts. From the standpoint of climate politics, USA’s presidential elections in November 2020 will determine the country’s climate policy for the next four years and, effectively, its future in the Paris Agreement.
Apart from this, 2020 started with impacts of climate change becoming increasingly evident with the massive Australian bushfires caused by record-breaking temperature rise, and Maldives reasserting that climate change is endangering its very existence. Therefore, the annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 26) scheduled in November 2020, is essential for furthering concrete climate action.
Ahead of the meeting, the United Kingdom and Italy (co-hosts), along with the United Nations, outlined the priorities for COP 26. Pivotal to achieving emission reduction targets is shifting towards renewable energy, investing in innovation to make this transition more affordable, and supporting developing countries in speeding their transition.
However, on April 1, in view of the Covid-19 crisis, a declaration from Bonn postponed COP 26 to 2021. The decision to postpone is concerning because it may slow the momentum for the global community to address climate change and its impacts. However, an analysis of the pandemic’s potential impacts on climate action reveals concrete benefits from the decision to postpone COP 26 for both renewable energy and climate politics.
UNEP’s Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments Report suggests that investments in renewable energy have consistently exceeded USD 250 billion, with major carbon emitters like China and the USA crowning the charts. In 2018, these investments were three times the investments in coal- and gas-fired energy generation.
This promising trend, coupled with COP 26’s promotion of renewable energy, has furthered a global shift to clean energy. With global lockdowns and suspension of economic activity, Thomson Reuters has forecast a six per cent drop in the global energy requirement in 2020. This could cause oil prices to plummet further. It may translate into increased global investment in oil to support struggling oil companies, and a simultaneous decrease in renewable energy investments.
The United States’ 2 trillion-dollar coronavirus rescue plan which cuts support for solar and wind energy, substantiates this claim. In this backdrop, a COP meeting as early as November would be counterproductive as States may still be occupied in understanding and mitigating the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.
That is not to say that their recovery strategies should in any way compromise investments in clean energy and other climate change action. To the contrary, the postponement has bought them more time to comprehend the situation and formulate green recovery strategies. For example, in contrast to the USA’s stimulus package, the EU has recently announced a strongly green recovery package.
These contrasting packages will provide significant lessons to the global community on climate change action during the pandemic. The date for submitting the NDCs has not been postponed. The level of commitment reflected in these NDCs is based on States’ individual, national circumstances at the time of submission.
Not allowing them sufficient time to understand and strategise green recovery policies, may adversely bear on the level of commitments reflected in their NDCs. Postponing the summit has bought State Parties more time to react to the result of the U.S. presidential elections, which will take place on November 3. Had COP 26 followed its earlier schedule, the election and the uncertainty of the results would have overshadowed the summit.
However, with the postponement, State Parties, including the USA, will have more time to process the election results, and proceed accordingly. Should the Democrats win, the USA could reenter the Paris Agreement, re-align its domestic climate policy, and announce greener Covid-19 stimulus packages. If Trump is re-elected, State Parties will have time to absorb the actuality that they will have to implement the Paris Agreement and meet its target, without the support of one of the world’s major carbon emitters.
Postponement of COP 26 may result in a more meaningful summit with a concrete outcome, rather than being another ineffectual bureaucratic meeting. The UN’s reiteration of COP 26 targets and State Parties greening their recovery packages may preclude any loss of momentum. The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the global community’s ability to respond to and contain life-threatening catastrophes. Effectively addressing climate change requires a similar resolute action.
(The writers are, respectively, Dean, Jindal School of Environment and Sustainability, and Assistant Lecturer, Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat)