COP26, the global climate change summit scheduled to be held in Glasgow this November, should be postponed for a year so the world can focus its energies on beating the coronavirus, Ian Blackford has insisted.

The call from the SNP leader at Westminster comes as UK Government sources have told our sister paper The Herald the mood within Whitehall was that it was now “impossible” to hold the international event this year.

It is timetabled to be held on November 9 to 20. Some 200 world leaders, 30,000 delegates and thousands of journalists are due to descend on Scotland for the United Nations summit.

But the virus has so far infected more than half a million people across 199 countries.

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The death toll has already passed 25,000. Over spring and summer, preparations for COP26 – the 26th Conference of the Parties – are due to intensify, but serious questionmarks have arisen over whether any country affected by Covid-19 could possibly devote the time and energy needed to prepare for it.

Moreover, the logistics of physically transporting world leaders and thousands of other people from hundreds of countries when the airline industry looks likely to be severely damaged by the pandemic appear extremely difficult, if not impossible.

While the option of video-conferencing COP26 has been mooted in some parts, officials suggest the Government would be opposed to this. Any such move would deprive Glasgow and the central belt of Scotland of an economic boost that could top £100 million.

Nor is there any question still within Government that Glasgow should continue to be the host city now that difficulties between the administrations in London and Edinburgh appear to have been ironed out.

The Scotland summit is seen as immensely important following the plans agreed at COP21 in Paris in 2015.

Given the fires and floods that have affected many parts of the world in the past 12 months, the UK Government is hoping that other countries will follow its lead in pledging to hit net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Last week, Dominic Raab, the UK Foreign Secretary, explained that whether or not the climate change summit could be held in the autumn would depend on the “trajectory” of the Covid-19 outbreak over the coming weeks.

However, he clearly signalled to MPs that COP26 taking place in eight months’ time was in jeopardy, saying, when asked if it could still go ahead: “I can’t give you a castiron guarantee; things are moving so quickly.

“Obviously, it is not until November. We will keep it under close review.

We would, of course, want it to go ahead but I can’t give you any guarantee on that.”

During Scottish Questions in the Commons, Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, also raised a caveat about the summit taking place this year when he told MPs: “Covid-19 willing, we will have COP26, which will be not only a showcase for Britain’s commitment to climate change but a wonderful opportunity for the world to come together when terrible virus.”

However, Mr Blackford believes it is now just a matter of time before Boris Johnson formally announces a postponement.

Asked if the climate change could go ahead in November, the party leader said: “I don’t think it can. Given the very serious circumstances, it may now be in everyone’s interests for COP26 to be postponed for a year to allow us all to focus our energies on tackling the pandemic.”

Earlier this month Lord Stern, a leading global expert on the climate crisis, urged the Prime Minister to resist calls to postpone COP26. He said: “We must just get on with the preparation.

"This is such an urgent challenge and there is so much to do and so much valuable work that is being done, that we can’t afford to lose the momentum." 

But John Sauven of Greenpeace UK, has written to Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary and COP26 President, calling for a delay, saying: “Postponement is very different to cancellation.

“It would be the same president, the same venue, the same two countries co-hosting, so all you are doing is having a slight delay. The UK got off to a slow start, so postponement would give more time for the work that is needed.”

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The travel bans across many countries coupled with the restriction on the movement of people in lockdowns have resulted in cancelled COP26 meetings and officials working remotely.

“I don’t think anyone now thinks COP26 is going to happen this November,” said one UK official.

“It is impossible to think this will go ahead as planned. People are saying it should be postponed until 2021.”

One Government insider pointed out that the venue for COP26 is the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, which military planners are believed to be considering as the site for a field hospital to deal with victims of the virus.

“Even if the outbreak is under control later on in the year, would scores of world leaders want to meet in a place that was a field hospital for coronavirus victims over summer?” he asked.