Andrés Landerretche: “It’s impossible to hold a virtual COP26”

In the wake of postponing the UN climate talks to 2021, Andrés Landerretche, coordinator of the COP25 presidency spoke with Maria Julia Arana, about how the decision was made and his believe that international negotiations are  “impossible to do virtually”.  

Additionally, Former Chilean Minister, Marcelo Mena asked governments to take the opportunity to change the negotiation standards and use post-pandemic stimulus pack to rocket leap ahead in climate action.

At the UK’s requirement, the UNFCCC Bureau announced that this year’s climate summit will be postponed until 2021, without specifying a new date.

The meeting would have taken place in Glasgow, Scotland, next November. COP26 is widely expected to produce a global consensus around climate action.

On April 1st, the UNFCCC Bureau held its first meeting this year, in the midst of a pandemic that has sowed the international climate action system with uncertainty.

The 12 members of the UNFCCC’s government body, representing all of the world’s regions, attended the call. The online session took place under Chile’s presidency, which extends until COP26 kicks off. 

SB50, a meeting of the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC, has been postponed too. The event, initially planned for June, will now take place in October in Bonn (Germany), the seat of the UNFCCC.

The subsidiary bodies will then have a chance to advance the technical talks and clear the way for political leaders during the conference.


Andrés Landerretche, the coordinator of the COP25 Chilean presidency, spoke to ComunicarSe about the decision made by the Convention:

“The conference of Subsidiary Bodies will take place in October, although it will stay under assessment in the context of the pandemic. We are aware of the fact that, if this mid-term session is pushed back again, everything else will also be delayed. Intermediate talks are key both for the Pre-COP that Italy will organize and COP26 itself.”

Landerretche also said that the British government will conduct consultations with the other Member States of the convention, in order to assess the conference’s viability and set a concrete date.

“It would be hasty to set a date at the moment, given the context of uncertainty and the possibility of a second wave of outbreaks in Europe. Everyone agreed to delay the talks and wait to set the date. The first step is to guarantee that the intermediate talks can take place in Bonn this October.”

As weeks went and the pandemic worsened, the UK —also host of the G7 talks— felt the pressure to confirm that COP26 would take place.

However, when the Scottish government announced that the venue selected for the conference —Glasgow’s SEC Arena— would be reconvened as a field hospital, the government asked the Convention’s Bureau to consider suspending the summit.


A video-conferenced COP26?

Andrés Landerretche didn’t hesitate to rule out a virtual, long-distance COP. “All members of the Bureau agreed that virtual talks won’t be possible. It could work, perhaps, for some of the committees’ meetings with fewer people, but not the main talks.”

But he also noted that “these involve over 190 countries so we think it would impossible to successfully hold them from a distance. Talks are very fluid, they require sideline get-togethers to establish negotiation fronts… It’s impossible to do this virtually”.

Landerretche also said that during the April 1st meeting, some members reminded the Bureau that there’s a large digital gap between parties, which could put some countries at a disadvantage during the talks.

 Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

Marcelo Mena, who was Environment Minister during Michelle Bachelet’s presidency and who also worked for the World Bank climate program, suggested that this crisis could be an opportunity to question and modify the UN negotiation system and make it more transparent.

“We have already seen cases where technology has been used to advance processes. One example are the talks related to Principle 10 of the Escazu Agreement. These were broadcasted live by digital media and NGOs took part in the negotiation rooms and transparency processes, showing that the negotiation standards may change.”

However, he continued, “Today, the world lives in a climate of low confidence, and in that context, there’s nothing such as transparency. Let everyone listen and showcase their positions. Maybe the denialist positions will be made apparent and that will be a way out of bilateralism…[and] the closed-door talks and the COP secrets.”


Updated NDCs are still required for 2020

Andrés Landerretche said that the deadline for updated and new NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) would remain. Countries will still be required to submit those in 2020.

However, the Chilean politician acknowledged that countries could well focus on the health and economic crisis brought about by the pandemic.

The Chilean government confirmed that it’s moving ahead to submit its update NDCs this year. More information [in Spanish] here.


Post-pandemic stimulus packages as an opportunity for climate funding

While the conference has already been suspended, the focus now moves on to the multi-billion economic stimulus packages that governments have already started to approve to ease the way out of the pandemic, and those that will follow. The question is how to make sure these investments contribute to climate action.

Marcelo Mena highlighted the opportunity to link post-pandemic economic initiatives and climate finance:

“The COP often focuses on strengthening the Green Climate Fund, but there’s a huge capacity in the finance sector, much larger than what this fund can cover. For example, multilateral banks have already handed around 40 to 50 billion dollars in climate funding, and the private sector moves around 500 billion dollars per year. Over 50 central banks control 50% of the global GDP in financial assets that could be allocated to climate action. That impact would be stronger than what means to fund the GCF.”

This story was originally published in Spanish at ComunicarSe

Maria Julia Arana
María Julia Arana is an online journalist specialized in Sustainable Development and Climate Change. As a correspondent for ComunicarSe, she has covered international summit such as G77+China Summit in 2014; UN General Assembly in 2016; COP 24 in Poland in 2018; and COP25 in Spain 2019. She is passionate about audiovisual art and won Buenos Aires’ Young Art Biennial in 2015. She intends to expand her work on UN Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, and the interaction with the private sector. She is also interested in immigrants’ rights as well as all forms of discrimination.