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The coronavirus pandemic forces UN to postpone the COP26 climate conference

April 2, 2020, 11:58 AM UTC

This is the web version of The Loop, Fortune’s weekly newsletter on the revolutions in sustainability. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.

Morning all,

Yesterday, climate advocates suffered a major blow as the U.K. announced the COP26 conference on climate change, due to be held in Glasgow this November, has been postponed until 2021.

“The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge, and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting COVID-19. That is why we have decided to reschedule COP26,” said conference president Alok Sharma. No date has been set for the rescheduled meeting.

COP26 was supposed to loom large in the climate change calendar. Signatories of the Paris Agreement are required to set new action plans for how to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 this year, and the specter of COP26 was intended to put pressure on them. Campaigners worry delaying the event will encourage governments to reduce climate action.

Even before the meeting was postponed, there was evidence some signatories aren’t taking climate commitments seriously. Japan—the world’s fifth largest producer of greenhouse gas—faced criticism over its “shameful” action plan, which it released Monday. Japan’s new plan is the first released by a G7 country.

Unfortunately, the new plan is essentially the old plan. Patricia Espinosa, who heads the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said she trusts “more ambitious targets will be set soon.”

However, more optimistic campaigners argue that delaying COP26 will allow countries time to regroup once the pandemic has passed and to refocus their energies on combating climate change. The postponement will also create more space between COP26 and the U.S. election—when Washington’s approach to the climate crisis could change completely.

Likewise—but far less significantly—The Loop is rescheduling, too, temporarily reducing its frequency to once every two weeks while the coronavirus pandemic rages.

The lower frequency will give me more time to focus on writing articles that answer questions readers have about this challenging and fast-evolving crisis. The Loop will improve too, as shifting to a biweekly schedule will mean more time to prepare for each edition and respond more thoughtfully to your feedback.

So heads up: Two weeks from now I plan to tackle the topic of degrowth. If you have any ideas you would like to share on the issue, as always, send an email and let me know.

See you in two weeks,

Eamon Barrett
Eamon.barrett@fortune.com

CARBON COPY

Foot on the gas

The Trump Administration rolled back Obama-era regulations on vehicle emissions, slashing fuel efficiency requirements for auto manufacturers. Under the old fuel economy rule, models manufactured from the year 2026 onwards needed to average 40 miles per gallon. Trump has now bumped that to 54 mpg. EPA administrator Adam Wheeler says the new rule will reduce pollution. The Verge

Mountains of medical waste

The pandemic has prompted a surge in medical waste as usage of single-use surgical masks and other disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) skyrockets. Officials in Wuhan, where the outbreak began, had to build a brand-new medical waste plant just to deal with the tide of soiled supplies. Facilities in the U.S.  are apparently not at risk of being overwhelmed, yet, but the situation does prompt the question of how we can recycle and reuse PPE. Wall Street Journal

Plastic palette

A group of German researchers have discovered a bacterium that feasts on plastic, or specifically polyurethane, which is commonly used in mattresses, building materials and car parts. The plastic normally ends up pin landfills or the sea, where it breaks down into toxic microplastics. The bacterium discovery is an important step towards resolving that issue, but the scientists warn it is only a first step. A lot more research is needed before the discovery yields usable results. CNN

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Coronavirus fight could prove fatal for another global challenge: Addressing climate change by Katherine Dunn

After coronavirus, we need to rethink densely populated cities by Joel Kotkin 

2 things every business must consider before laying off employees in a coronavirus recession by Gad Levanon

The oil sector is quickly running out of storage for its unprecedented surplus by Katherine Dunn

CLOSING NUMBER

1 million gallons

Data centers are thirsty facilities. According to Bloomberg, Arizona—a desert state— has promised Google 1 million gallons of water a day in order to cool a proposed data center. The web giant will get up to 4 million gallons a day if it hits certain project milestones. Meanwhile, Arizona residents have been chided for each using a 120 gallons of water per day.