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World's 'greatest test' delays climate talks

The coronavirus pandemic that has caused 47,000 deaths worldwide represents what officials call humanity's worst crisis since World War II.

The coronavirus pandemic that has caused 47,000 deaths worldwide as of Wednesday represents what officials call humanity's worst crisis since World War II, upending countless lives and efforts such as the global climate talks.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide surged to more than 937,000 mostly in Europe and the United States — which had over 216,000 cases — along with China and Iran, according to two separate Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers. Italy, Spain, France, China and Iran have the most deaths.

Half of the planet's 7.8 billion population is already under some form of lockdown in a global struggle to halt the pandemic since it was first detected late last year in Wuhan, China.

In a report on the pandemic, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said that with the right actions, the COVID-19 pandemic can mark the rebirthing of society as we know it today to one where we protect present and future generations.

"It is the greatest test that we have faced since the formation of the United Nations," he said, "one that requires all actors — governments, academia, businesses, employers and workers’ organizations, civil society organizations, communities and individuals — to act in solidarity in new, creative, and deliberate ways for the common good and based on the core United Nations values that we uphold for humanity."

Despite its demise in 1946 after failing to prevent World War II, the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, which officially came into existence in October 1945, ushered in a new era of reliance on international organizations, treaties and trade accords to avert more war. Another purpose of global governance — free, just and prosperous societies based on international law — arose, too.

In that vein, Guterres' new 26-page U.N. report, "Shared responsibility, global solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19," calls for an unprecedented measure of worldwide cooperation to save lives and stem the societal and economic disruptions of the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

Biggest threats, today vs. longterm

With the need for social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, meetings among members of the U.N. Security Council, the Group of 20 major economies' leaders and many other international organizations have all resorted to virtual gatherings through video conferences.

The latest victim is the annual U.N.-backed climate conference that had been scheduled for November and was to be hosted by the United Kingdom and Italy in Glasgow, Scotland.

With the climate crisis producing huge disruptions around the globe such as fires, floods, species losses and health emergencies, the climate conference is the leading platform for efforts to fulfill the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal that almost 200 nations adopted: keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C. above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible.

Just weeks ago, the World Meteorological Organization reported signs of global warming are everywhere. WMO's global assessment found the world officially crossed the halfway point to a major climate crisis benchmark — 2019 ended with global average temperatures 1.1 degrees Celsius above estimated pre-industrial levels.

The decision to delay the climate summit in Scotland was made by the Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, along with its U.K. and Italian partners, U.N. officials said on Wednesday.

New dates for a rescheduled conference in 2021, to be hosted in Glasgow by the U.K. in partnership with Italy, will be released later after more discussions, the UNFCCC secretariat, known as U.N. Climate Change, said in a statement.

"In light of the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP26 in November 2020 is no longer possible," the secretariat said. "We will continue to work with all involved to increase climate ambition, build resilience and lower emissions."

U.N. Climate Change's executive secretary, Patricia Espinosa, said officials will keep prodding nations to significantly boost their climate ambitions in line with the Paris Agreement.

“COVID-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term," she said. “Soon, economies will restart. This is a chance for nations to recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient."