UN warns UK over unrealistic plans for in-person Cop26 climate summit

Boris Johnson said ‘it would be a wonderful thing’ for the conference to be held physically and without fear

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The UN has reportedly warned the UK government that its push to ensure Cop26 is held in person in Glasgow later this year is unrealistic because of Covid-19.

While it is generally accepted the climate summit in Glasgow in November will not be as big as its predecessors, UK officials do not want it to take place online.

Cop26 was originally supposed to take place in November 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 27,000 registered to attend Cop25 in Madrid in December 2019.

According to The Sun newspaper, the UN has voiced concerns about the event being held in person. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pushed for virtual meetings to be stepped up last month as he expressed fears that the pandemic could again derail the effort to address the climate crisis.

“Because of Covid-19, it is unlikely that the usual schedule of meetings will happen in person. Preparatory negotiations for Cop26 will need to take place virtually,” Mr Guterres reportedly said.  “We simply cannot allow the pandemic to keep us from working together on the crucial pathway to Glasgow.”

More than 126,000 people in the UK have died from Covid-19, but the country also has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

However, a third wave of the virus has recently gripped Europe and forced this week’s European Council meeting to move online.

The UK government has stressed the importance it places on hosting the Cop26 summit.

"The Cop26 summit is one of the single biggest priorities that any government could have domestically and internationally and it's a massive job and we're throwing everything at it," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday.

"The question now really is just to make sure that we can have a Cop that is physical”, he added.

"I really think it would be a wonderful thing if by November, the UK can lead the world in all sorts of things, but actually have a summit that is a big global summit where everybody turns up. And everybody turns up without fear,” Mr Johnson said.

Mr Johnson’s comments came six weeks after Alok Sharma, president of Cop26, clearly indicated to the UN the plan remained for the summit not to be held online.

“We must continue to work creatively and flexibly, guided by the principles of transparency, inclusivity and common purpose, to make progress which is so vital.

“So that when we do meet in person in November, we secure an outcome that delivers for each and every country. And that delivers for our planet as a whole,” he said.

Earlier this month Mr Sharma said; “we will do everything we can to ensure that this is a physical meeting."

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterrres last month said that important pre-summit negotiations could have to take place virtually.
"We simply cannot allow the pandemic to keep us from working together on the crucial pathway to Glasgow," he said.
Preparatory talks, which help set the agenda for Cop summits, were originally meant to be held in June 2020 before being pushed back to October 2020 and then postponed again.
No new date has been announced since.
But there are also fears that an unequal distribution of vaccines could prevent delegates from developing countries being able to attend.
"I'm very keen to champion the voices of developing nations. It's an important reason why we want to make sure that the event in Glasgow is a physical event so they can sit at the same table," Mr Sharma said earlier this month.