14 May 2020

Venue: Live | Webex Event & Facebook

Organization: Geneva Environment Network

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was scheduled to take place from 9-19 November 2020, in Glasgow, United Kingdom, and the 'Youth for the Climate' event and Pre-COP in Milan and Rome, Italy, in September and October 2020. On 1 April 2020, the COP Bureau announced that the Conference and its preparatory meetings would take place in 2021.

About the GENeva Environment Dialogues

The GENeva Environment Dialogues’ special COVID-19 series discusses the impacts of the pandemic on the global environmental agenda. Experts are concerned that the world is losing critical time to turn around alarming trends in biodiversity loss, climate change, sound management of chemicals and other environmental threats.

The series addresses the following topics:

  • The impact of the crisis on the invited organization activities
  • The response of the invited organization to the COVID-19 crisis
  • The impacts on the preparations of the conferences and negotiations they are hosting
  • New schedules and programmes for these conferences and negotiations


Facilitators: GEN Team


Deputy Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Youssef NASSEF

Acting Director of Intergovernmental Support and Collective Progress Division, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change


Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the UK to the UN and other International Organisations

Marie Sol FULCI

Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Italy to the International Organizations in Geneva



Moderation: Diana Rizzolio, Geneva Environment Network

The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis that affects everyone, and that has an important economic impact on top of the human suffering caused by the disease itself.

There is a large response from the UN system and other actors to this crisis, including on the global environmental agenda, as we have heard in the previous sessions.

In the past weeks the Secretary General of the United Nations has various times referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as “an unprecedented wake-up call”. The pandemic is resulting in major economic and political shifts around the globe which are giving the international community a unique window of opportunity in which recovery plans can be instrumental in creating a more sustainable and resilient future.

As we recover, we must build back better for people and for the planet.

The Secretary General keeps also reminding us, that we have a framework for action – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Today we will discuss the impact of this crisis on the UN Climate Change Secretariat and on the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference. The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – referred as COP26 – was scheduled to take place in November this year, in Glasgow, in the United Kingdom. The “Youth for the Climate” event and the Pre-COP were scheduled to take place in Milan and Rome, in Italy, in September and October this year.

Last month, the Bureau of the conference of the parties announced that the Conference and its preparatory meetings will be rescheduled to 2021.

Nevertheless, 2020 remains critical for making progress on climate change. As the World Meteorological Organization reminded us on Earth Day, Planet Earth registered its second-hottest year on record in 2019. In the last decades, the physical signs of climate change and impacts on our planet have gathered pace, reaching a crescendo in the past five years, which were the hottest on record. That trend is expected to continue.

As the UN Climate Change chief and other leaders keep reminding us, the climate emergency has not taken time off for the coronavirus. Nor will it prevent extreme weather events and other climate related impacts.

The UN Secretary General keeps also reminding us that while Covid-19 may have postponed COP26, it has not postponed the need for Parties to accelerate work towards fulfilling commitments they have already made. Nor does it postpone the requirement for nations to submit or revise their national climate action plans.

UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP26)

Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Director, UNFCCC

  • Topics of the discussion today are impacts on Secretariat and impacts on the process
  • In January, we discussed the outcomes of COP25
  • Unprecedented times we are living in, but times not without hope
  • Unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, revealed what the world can do if it comes together
  • Many similarities between COVID-19 and climate change, but both give us opportunities
  • COVID-19 revealed vulnerabilities of the world and the importance of science, cooperation, knowledge sharing, transparency
  • COVID-19 crisis has shaken the world economy in an unprecedented way
  • Focus on the recovery: opens unprecedented opportunities and hope
  • Recovery in a sustainable, green, healthy and safe manner
  • Recover better by switching towards a more sustainable, fair and inclusive development
  • SDGs are the best framework the world has at its disposal
  • Secretariat adjusted in working from home, next week [18 May to 24 May] the phase 1 of the return plan starts
  • Step up to not lose momentum to address climate change – all the constituted and subsidiary bodies are meeting remotely
  • Work is progressing, it has become a learning experience and has opened more opportunities
  • The Secretariat has been monitoring the well-being of the staff
  • COVID-19 will have financial repercussions on the Secretariat – making sure that we do not lose track of the importance of addressing the threat of climate change
  • Make sure Parties, stakeholders and civil society remain engaged
  • Looking forward on keeping the engagement kicking

Youssef Nassef, Director, Inter-governmental Support, UNFCCC

  • Tested the resilience of our systems in similar ways of climate impacts in the future
  • Any delays in our negotiations, are not matched by delays in climate change itself
  • How did we handle the delays in negotiations?
  • IPCC has sounded an alarm bell for the need of transformational change to limit global warming to 2°C – sense of urgency
  • Perceived disjointedness between expectations and outcomes of COP25
  • These two points, plus the COVID-19 crisis that obligated us to reschedule events and meetings – drive the context here
  • UNFCCC negotiations meet in the middle of the year (subsidiary bodies) and in the end of the year (subsidiary bodies and governing bodies)
  • Bureau agreed to delay the upcoming negotiating sessions as well as the session of the next COP
  • Presiding officers tasked at looking to looking at what was supposed to happen in conjunction with the sessions this year and evaluate what can be done virtually, what can be rescheduled
  • Incoming Presidency is consulting on new dates for COP26
  • Rearranging events of this year:
    • principle of inclusive participation to guarantee inclusivity
    • no events should be of deciding or negotiating nature if conducted virtually
  • Delay of subsidiary bodies meeting (June to October) – revising the decision in July to see if the circumstances allow it to take place
  • How to ensure momentum is retained in the context of the delay of meetings?
  • Some items required a lot more negotiation to reach an agreement
  • Hopefully, it can be done in the intersessional period
  • Workload for next COP session will become larger, since reporting requirements have to be presented at COP26
  • Some mandates are linked to years, but other mandates are linked to session numbers with the previous understanding that these sessions would be held in a specific year – need to look into these mandates linked to COP sessions and see if adjustments are necessary
  • Some of the constituted bodies have terms of 3 or 5 years, but can be revised and prolonged – mandate is linked to a session number, not to a year
  • Issue of elections, since for each session of the COP, new officers are elected – in the absence of a session, how would that work?

H.E. Miriam Sherman, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the UK in Geneva

  • COP26 held in Glasgow in November – difficult decision to postpone it to 2021 because of COVID-19
  • Consultation with partners for the specific date in 2021
  • Rescheduling ensures that Parties can focus on the issues discussed at this conference and allow us to have more time for preparations
  • COVID-19 presents many challenges, not least how we are going to recover from the pandemic, but every country is going to face a choice: laying the foundations for sound, sustainable and inclusive growth or locking in polluting emissions for decades
  • COVID-19 provided a stark reminder on what happens when humanity’s relation with nature breaks down
  • As we recover, we have the opportunity to protect and restore nature, reducing our exposure to viruses and to climate impacts
  • The UK is supporting a green and resilient recovery, that helps us deliver on our commitments
  • We press for much greater ambition on reducing emissions, build resilience and cooperate and support one another
  • Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are crucial frameworks for guiding the recovery
  • Science-led, clean and resilient recovery will create employment, while ensuring we address the challenges of public health, climate change and biodiversity
  • We will work multilaterally through the UN and the G7 to build back better
  • We are keen to hear from partners in Geneva:
    • How do you think we should adapt COP26 in the light of the COVID-19 crisis?
    • What conversations do you want to hear in the run-up to COP26?
  • Many of the events on the road to COP26 are taking place online
  • We reassure that the UK and Italy will work to raise the ambition on climate change

Marie Sol Fulci, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Italy in Geneva

  • COVID-19 is a profound challenge for everyone in this difficult moment
  • Italy is working in partnership with the UK to have successful pre-COP next year
  • COP26 postponement entailed the youth event and pre-COP postponement
  • Youth event:
    • Significant platform to engage younger generations in their call for global action to tackle climate change
    • Unprecedented active engagement of young people in the pre-COP, usually dedicated to high-level representatives, will be an opportunity to foster innovative elements and ideas they have
  • COVID-19 crisis makes it more crucial to have more ambition on climate change mitigation
  • While embarking on this journey – seize the moment, keep high the momentum – this crisis allows us to have more time to discuss to foster a positive growth that doesn’t hamper climate
  • Recognition of the disproportionate impact of climate change on the youth, but also of the need to make the youth actively engaged in the global debate on climate change
  • In fostering constructive approaches, we consider important the involvement of younger generations from the start of the process, since they will inherit it
  • Need to empower youth with the knowledge from the leading experts on climate change and its related aspects, such as nature-based solutions
  • In the era of confinement, we should explore ways to set up, for instance, networking segments for the youth, or new dimensions of creating skills related to climate change mitigation
  • Open to ideas and contributions from Geneva in relation to the youth event
  • An event focused on Africa was supposed to take place in the context of the pre-COP, but had to be postponed
  • African countries are responsible for 3% of emissions but much more affected by climate change, paving the way for more fragility and conflicts because of its negative impacts – Italy is at the forefront of tackling climate change in Africa, also through the involvement of its private sector
  • Africa and climate change challenges will be all the more relevant considering new synergies with other events in 2021
  • In the meantime, possible activities are under evaluation – Geneva-based organizations can give inputs and suggestions


Sandeep Sengupta, IUCN

  • Is there still an expectation on Parties to submit updated NDCs in 2020 (or will they have some flexibility in view of Covid-19);
  • Given that COP26 is now delayed until 2021, will this impact the timing of COP27 as well? Also greatly appreciate the UK COP Presidency’s linking of climate & nature, and look forward to fully supporting this.

Atle Solberg, Platform on Disasters Diplacement

  • To the UNFCCC Secretariat: The question of Governance of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) was left unresolved at COP25, can the SB Session in October address the governance question, or will this be addressed at COP26?

Francesca Mingrone, CIEL

  • COP26 is expected to adopt an Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) work plan to contribute to greater citizens empowerment. Do you see opportunities for NGOs & parties to use the extra time before COP to lay the ground for an ambitious outcome on ACE?

Elise Buckle, Climate & Sustainability

  • A systemic transformation is clearly needed and would also benefit from a convergence and cross-fertilization of agenda between the UNFCCC, the CBD and development agencies dealing with the humanitarian crisis starting to unfold.
  • As we definitely need to keep the momentun on climate and biodiversity, and a global moment and pressure point to encourage governments to raise ambition, including in their recovery plans, could we envisage an online planetary emergency summit in October?

Tannaz Horri Farahani, Islamic Azad University

  • In the coming months, some countries have called for a review of their commitments, given the COVID-19 outbreak and its economic impact. Do you think that we will we see a change in the climate commitments of states before the COP 26?

Richard Klein, Stockholm Environment Institute

  • Question to Mr Nassef: Do you anticipate that the delay of the negotiation sessions will also affect the timing of the global stocktake agreed at COP21 in Paris?

Sebastien Duyck, CIEL

  • I would like to thank the organizer and the panelists for this insightful exchange and express best wishes for the staff of the UNFCCC Secretariat & the missions participating today. My question to the panelists would be to what extent the Secretariat and the upcoming Presidency perceive an opportunity to retain the fourth quarter of 2020 as a crucial moment to take stock of the aggregated ambition of Parties to the Paris Agreement, as was initially envisioned in Paris.

Budi Tjahjono, Franciscans International

  • Good morning. Questions for the UK and Italy Deputy Permanent Representatives – When do you plan to submit your reviewed NDCs and how will you integrate human rights in your NDCs?

Janos Pasztor, Carnegie Council

  • Glad to hear UK will consider climate change and sustainable development as part of COVID recovery.  Has there been any structured thinking by Parties and by the Secretariat on how substantively the worlds response (or lack of it) to COVID-19?


O. Sarmad

  • UK Presidency working closely with their Italian partners, the previous Presidency of Chile and the Secretariat in keeping up the momentum and address all the aspects of the process
  • On our website, we will update calendar of events in the context of the changing circumstances
  • Made a full inventory of mandates and decisions that need to be addressed and making sure that Parties are fully engaged
  • NDCs are pillars of the Paris Agreement, event though not part of negotiations
  • Importance of NDCs’ significant enhancement from the current state they are in
  • Need to use the opportunity of the pandemic to build back better
  • Very encouraging is the support of the UK and of Italy in the G7 and other for a
  • We saw great commitment by the Parties at the highest level to ensure the momentum is kept
  • Motivation and intention are there, and the Secretariat is engaged in doing everything it can

Y. Nassef

  • Some mandates are linked to a year | Some mandates are linked to a session number
  • NDCs linked to 2020 by paragraphs 23 and 24 of Decision 1/CP.21 – the intention of receiving NDCs this year stands
  • Mandate to produce a synthesis report incorporating the contents of NDCs
  • The Global Stocktake linked to 2023 – adjustments in some of the inputs, which were associated to a session number
  • The Secretary-General has placed a huge emphasis on a green and climate resilient recovery
  • Notion of building back better – certainly, we are going to bring forward this concept
  • Bring in and adapt lessons from short-term crisis of COVID-19 to address long-term climate change crisis

M. Shearman

  • UN Climate Action Summit: UK Prime Minister called for increased 2030 emission reductions
  • UK’s carbon budget is set in legislation and one of the most stringent in the world (27% cut in emissions from the 1990 baseline)
  • Achieved first and second carbon budget and on track to reach the third
  • Our success to date, is not a reason to delay action
  • COP26 host, we take it seriously
  • We want all stakeholders to meet their Paris commitments + NDCs
  • Let’s make the world a better place and build back better

M.S. Fulci

  • EU dimension concerning NDCs
  • EU commitments will be more ambitious thanks to Italian commitments
  • Italy continues to be committed concerning NDCs

O. Sarmad

  • COP27 is under discussion with the current and incoming presidency – different options:
    • hold two COPs in the same year
    • hold only one COP and subsequently delay the whole cycle
  • Complex issue, but under discussion
  • Engagement of NGOs: Secretariat is engaged with NGOs, kept informed of various aspects of the process
  • Carbon capture and storage under the Paris Agreement – UN Secretary-General called for a UN-wide approach to looking at that technology and its ethical dimensions

Y. Nassef

  • Flexibility on NDCs – those submitted in 2020 will be included in the report
  • NDCs submitted in 2021 is not yet decided, but the mandate has to be fulfilled
  • Governance of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) – no decision in COP25
  • Work is ongoing under the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism – will come up again for adoption hopefully in COP26
  • Hopefully, countries will not change their climate commitments, not backtracking climate ambitions
  • Interface with biodiversity: working closely with CBD, including in the context of their post-2020 work
  • A lot to synergize in terms of the relation between nature, climate change, health with CBD
  • In terms of opportunities for NGOs, there will be a huge emphasis on non-party stakeholders
  • Their input will be essential in keeping ambition alive

M. Shearman

  • Themes for COP26:
    • Adaptation and resilience
    • Green finance
    • Nature-based solutions
    • Green growth
    • Building back better
  • Committed to driving progress across all mandates at COP26
  • Secure outcome that reflects the interests of all parties, including the most vulnerable and the poorest
  • In terms of NGOs, the civil society component of every COP is incredibly important: what goes on inside the COP has to reflect what is going on outside of it
  • In terms of Human Rights and climate change, the question is very important, as the UK is standing for the HRC – it is clear that there’s a strong link between Human Rights and climate

M.S. Fulci

  • Participation of all interested stakeholders in the preparatory part will be central
  • Human Rights dimensions: we are in the HRC and the link between HR and climate will be considered
  • NDCs – we fall under the EU NDCs realm – working on a new, ambitious NDC

Closing remarks

O. Sarmad

  • We are all in it together
  • We need to keep up the momentum
  • We’re going through a huge unprecedented event, we must not forget the climate change crisis
  • The Secretariat is engaged in that, keeping the momentum and enhance commitment

Y. Nassef

  • Variety of questions give us an insight on what preoccupations there are
  • Retain ambitions and bring them forward
  • Opportunities in the recovery

M. Shearman

  • Climate change does not have to take a back seat
  • Take the pandemic on how to tackle climate change better in the future
  • How can we build back better?
  • Keen to hear all perspectives and ideas as we build COP26
  • Geneva central for the run-up of COP26

M.S. Fulci

  • COVID-19 is a big crisis
  • A lot of elements we can draw from it
  • Increase reflection and dialogue among stakeholders and interested parties
  • Commitment in having a successful COP and pre-COP next year
  • Opportunity in Geneva to have more inputs


The event will be live on Facebook.