March 6, 2020 / 6:42 PM / a month ago

U.N. cancels some meetings ahead of climate summit due to coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United Nations has canceled some meetings in Bonn, Germany, and elsewhere planned in the run-up to a crucial U.N. climate summit to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November due to the coronavirus outbreak, an official said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, attends the High-Level event on Global Climate Action during the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Susana Vera

“This exceptional measure aims to contain the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard the health and safety of participants attending UNFCCC meetings in Bonn and elsewhere,” Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said in a statement.

The UNFCCC secretariat will not hold any physical meetings in Bonn or elsewhere between March 6 and the end of April, she said in a statement.

The Glasgow summit in November is expected to be the most important round of climate negotiations since the 2015 Paris agreement was reached.

Speaking at the United Nations in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said countries should not allow the virus to distract them from the urgent task of making more ambitious climate commitments under the Paris process.

“Our task is made more difficult by the postponement of many meetings due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak,” Guterres told a summit briefing session. “But even as we work to contain and address the virus, we must also look to use every opportunity to build our climate action agenda.”

Concern over the spread of coronavirus has led to the cancellation of dozens of major global events. Earlier this week, organizers canceled the CERAWeek energy conference, one of the biggest gatherings of oil ministers and top industry executives in Houston.

Jennifer Tollmann, a policy adviser with international climate change think tank E3G, said the upcoming meeting that had been due to take place in Bonn in March was a highly technical preparatory session, which should be easier to conduct via videoconference than a much more significant meeting that is still due to take place in Bonn from June 1-11.

“If they cancel the June meetings, though, that would be a bigger issue for COP26 and the UK,” Tollmann said, referring to the acronym for the climate summit and its host.

The June conference in Bonn is seen as an important opportunity for climate envoys from around the world to find ways to address outstanding issues ahead of the Glasgow summit.

The June meeting also represents an opportunity for pre-summit diplomacy for the British hosts, led by Business Minister Alok Sharma, who Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed to lead the Glasgow proceedings last month.

Additional reporting by Matthew Green in LONDON; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft

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