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2020 Bled Strategic Forum

COP26 and COVID-19 – British and Slovenian experts debate the pandemic’s impact on climate change

COVID-19 remains top priority for governments worldwide. What does this mean for climate change? 

With one year to go before major UN climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow, the British Embassy, Centre for European Perspective and Bled Strategic Forum jointly hosted an online event with leading British and Slovenian experts. The discussion (titled “COP vs COVID”) considered how the response to COVID-19 might affect climate negotiations, and ambitions, ahead of next year’s conference in the UK.  

In a lively discussion, it was clear that action on climate change remains urgent. As climate scientist Professor Sir Brian Hoskins (Imperial College London) emphasized: “Every bit of carbon dioxide that we add today will influence the climate for the next 1000 years.”

COP26 will be the most important international meeting on climate change since Paris in 2015, and our future climate will be largely determined by the global response in the next decade. Professor Dr Lučka Kajfež Bogataj (University of Ljubljana) projected that “our current policies give us a 3% probability of success. What our future will look like depends on the next ten years. Plans for 2050 are useless if we don’t deliver on goals for 2030.”

So the COP26 negotiations under the UK Presidency (in partnership with Italy) needs to be ambitious and inclusive, said Lead COP26 Negotiator for the UK, Archie Young. “Ambition means accelerating real world climate action” – not just setting bolder targets for the distant future. 

COVID-19 has undeniably made the response to climate change much more complicated. “We all think that due to COVID-19 we already changed our lifestyles and lowered emissions,” said Prof Kajfež Bogataj. In Slovenia emissions reduced by up to 18% during the first lockdown. “Unfortunately, as soon as the restrictions were loosened in June, emissions went back up.” 

However, as Ms Tina Kobilšek from MOP points out: “COVID-19 is not only a challenge, but also an opportunity for change.” While governments are rightly focussed on tackling the virus, climate remains crucial – “We are not only facing a pandemic but also the climate crisis, and that won’t go away.” During Slovenia’s EU Presidency next year, “Slovenia is fully committed to steer the EU towards an ambitious climate target and outcome of COP26.”

Mr Young was clear that the UK sees Slovenia as an important partner. He added: “When COVID meant I had to call countries to postpone COP26, the vast majority agreed that postponing the conference could not mean postponing climate action.” Slovenia’s EU presidency would be vital to sustain momentum in the final months of negotiations.

There was broad agreement that a ‘green recovery’ from COVID-19 was vital. “Stimulus packages can genuinely transform the economy,” said Mr Young, “I understand the temptation to take short term, easy way out option. But now is time to take a step back and think what our economies need to look like in the future, With the right decisions, we can get on the path of achieving the viral Paris climate change goals.”

You can watch the event here.

This was the launch event of the FUTURE PERFECT event series, which will convene experts to ask big questions about our post-COVID future, organized by the British Embassy in Ljubljana in co-operation with CEP, BSF and other partners. The events will offer opportunities for the audience to ask questions directly of leading experts in their fields.

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