About 195 nations committed under the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change to submit updated plans this year, with a view to boosting so-far inadequate pledges to curb planet-heating emissions and adapt to the impacts of warming.
But the health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have thrown climate diplomacy off track and forced a delay of this year’s U.N. climate summit until November 2021.
Nonetheless, the effects of the pandemic should not be a reason for countries to shy away from submitting more ambitious national plans to fight climate change, said Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde.
“Both challenges — climate change and COVID-19 — could be addressed in a green recovery,” she told an online event launching a campaign to press for those plans by the end of the year.
“Besides, delayed response is going to be expensive and irreversible,” she added in video comments.
Zewde and a few other leaders of 48 countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), including Cambodia and Nepal, said they were working to submit their own updated plans this year, despite contributing little to planetary heating.
The Marshall Islands, Rwanda and Vietnam have already done so.
Patricia Espinosa, the U.N. climate chief, reiterated a call for all countries to stick to the 2020 deadline.
Doing so was “vital” because there was no time to lose in boosting efforts to limit global warming to the tightest Paris pact goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, she told the event.
The world has already heated up by just over 1 degrees Celsius from preindustrial times and is set for warming of close to 3 degrees Celsius, even if emissions-cutting pledges made so far are delivered.
“The luxury of time was squandered long ago — we are now minutes to midnight,” Espinosa said.
But she added that momentum was picking up, with about a dozen updated plans already submitted and many other countries indicating they would do so this year.
The United Nations and Britain, host of the delayed COP26 climate summit, are organizing a virtual event on Dec. 12 to mark the five years since the Paris Agreement was sealed, giving leaders a platform to showcase their stepped-up plans.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose country currently chairs the CVF, pointed to the efforts — and investment — made by its member countries to cut emissions and adapt to climate change within their borders.
In Bangladesh, for example, scientists have developed crops that are resistant to salt, floods and droughts, as well as floating agriculture technology, while Costa Rica produces 100 percent renewable electricity for most of the year, she said.
Ethiopia planted more than 5 billion tree seedlings during this year’s rainy season, on a path to 20 billion by 2022.
But “robust international partnership” remains indispensable for vulnerable countries to minimize “the profound loss and damage” wrought by climate change impacts such as worsening floods, storms and higher seas, Hasina added.
The CVF member states, representing more than 1 billion people across Africa, Asia and Latin America, expect Group of 20 countries — which account for more than three-quarters of global emissions — to come up with “clear and definite” plans to effectively cut those emissions, she said.
She also urged rich nations to keep a promise to raise at least $100 billion a year from 2020 to help poorer countries develop cleanly and adapt to a warming planet.
David Waskow, of the World Resources Institute, said action on climate change was urgent but “what will count the most at the end of the day is the degree of ambition”, especially from big-emitting countries such as China.
Espinosa said that if countries submitted action plans after the 2020 deadline, they would not be included in a key February report synthesizing progress toward the Paris goals of keeping warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The next formal submission date for stronger plans, under the Paris deal, is five years away, she added — “at which point, our window of opportunity (to meet the goals) may be closed.”