BERLIN — Officials from around the globe begin three weeks of grueling climate talks Monday that will involve grappling with a number of thorny political issues without the benefit of face-to-face meetings, due to pandemic restrictions.
The UN climate office in Bonn, Germany, has designed a schedule of virtual sessions that will see negotiators share the burden of joining meetings before dawn, during the afternoon or late at night — depending on their respective time zones.
“This is not ideal at all,” said Marianne Karlsen, who chairs one of the two international bodies holding talks. “We wanted to have all these interactions that we have when we are in an in-person setting, but we do not have any other options.”
Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, who chairs the second body at the talks, said that although negotiators would not be able to encourage each other “with a friendly tap on the shoulder,” he hopes that ”we’re going to be engaging on substantive issues and really try to make progress.”
Negotiations will focus on resolving some of the outstanding issues arising from the 2015 Paris climate accord, including rules for international carbon markets, harmonizing countries’ timeframes for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing aid to developing nations. Progress on all of those issues is seen as key to making the UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November a success. However, due to concerns about the format, no official decisions are expected at the virtual talks that run until June 17.
“We need to show up in Glasgow with decisions ready to be taken,” said the head of the UN climate office, Patricia Espinosa.
In particular, a pledge to provide $100 billion in financial support each year to poor countries to tackle climate change has yet to be fulfilled.
“The $100 billion has become one element that is crucial to building trust, but it goes beyond the $100 billion,” Espinosa told reporters.
The Glasgow summit will be a crucial test for international efforts to curb global warming before it reaches critical levels in the coming decades.
Signatories of the Paris accord agreed to limit the rise in average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5 C (2.7 F), by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times. But with global warming already at about 1.2 C (2.2 F), scientists say drastic steps are needed to cut the amount of carbon dioxide and other planet-heating gases released into the atmosphere.
“We are not on a trajectory that it compatible with 1.5 degrees by the end of the century,” Espinosa warned.
Her office has given countries that missed last year’s deadline for submitting new emissions reduction goals until July 31 to do so, if they want those targets included in a key scientific report that will provide the basis for further talks in Glasgow, she said.
Concerns have been expressed that unless the coronavirus pandemic is firmly beaten back by fall, the UN summit could be delayed for a second time, or held online, a format that many developing countries object to.
But former US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is President Joe Biden’s special envoy on climate change, has said he expects the Glasgow summit to go ahead.
“I absolutely do,” Kerry told The Associated Press in mid-May. “And I think great steps will be taken to help make sure it does. I think it’s very important that it does.”