Britain said its hosting of a UN climate summit in November is under close review amid concerns of postponement because of coronavirus.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs he could give no guarantees that the gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, would go ahead and said that it depended on the trajectory of the virus.
Mr Raab said the meeting – COP26 – had been the top international priority for the UK for 2020 and wanted to ensure that the 2015 Paris agreement on global action would continue “driving forward and not stalling”.
Preliminary meetings have already been cancelled, postponed or moved online until the end of April. “I can’t give you a cast-iron guarantee,” Mr Raab told MPs of the meeting. “We will have to see. We will keep it under close review.
“We’re forward-looking to all the key international events particularly ones we are hosting and see what’s realistic. It depends on the trajectory of virus and what happens in the coming weeks.”
UN officials say that countries need to radically toughen their pledges to avoid temperature increases that scientists say could render swathes of the planet uninhabitable.
But campaigners have warned that the economic damage caused by coronavirus could persuade countries not to invest in cutting damaging carbon emissions. Concerns have been raised the preparatory work for the meeting have been disrupted because governments’ attentions have been focused on the pandemic.
Mr Raab said the focus has been on securing further commitments from the priority countries that cover two-thirds of global emissions “while keeping 197 signatories engaged and coordinated”.
He said that 114 countries had signalled that they had emission reduction plans before the conference in November.
An architect of the landmark Paris agreement said that the vulnerabilities laid bare by the virus should spur a more concerted response on climate change.
“In a way, it's a lesson: viruses don't respect borders, climate change doesn't respect borders,” said Laurence Tubiana, a former French diplomat who was instrumental in the deal, said on Wednesday. “If we do not manage the climate crisis it will be the same.”
Concerns over the future of the summit come amid signs that the slowdown in economic activity caused by the pandemic has reduced emissions in China, the world’s largest polluter.
Pollution monitoring satellites have shown significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide over China released by vehicles and power plans.
“There is evidence that the change is at least partly related to the economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus,” said NASA.
China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak is raising uncertainties about its ability to meet 2020 emission goals that it has been well on track to accomplish, according to a new research report.
Before the virus hit, China was close to meeting 2020 pledges toward increasing clean energy, said Rhodium Group, an independent research provider based in New York.
It said that if China decides to stimulate an economy heading for its worst quarter on record by investing in pollution-intensive industries, emissions could come back with a vengeance.