International climate change talks in Glasgow may have to be delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has warned.
Mr Raab said the Government had not given up hope that it could still host the COP26 summit in November as planned, but warned that it would be a “challenge”.
“I can’t give you a cast-iron guarantee, things are moving so quickly,” he told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
“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.”
The United Nations-led talks – expected to bring 30,000 people to Scotland – are seen as crucial to getting international efforts to curb emissions back on track.
Mr Raab said whether they could be held this autumn would depend on the “trajectory” of the Covid-19 outbreak over the coming weeks.
“It is going to be a challenge which is why we will keep striving to make it a reality. Obviously we would rather avoid delay if we possibly can.
“We haven’t got to the stage where I can tell you we have given up on it. We are still hoping we can deliver on it.
“I think we are all waiting to see right now quite what the timing is going to be on the coronavirus.
“It is still possible of today that it might be doable. As long as that is the case I think we would want to try to give it a go.”
Mr Raab said, however, that the Government remained committed to securing a post-Brexit free trade deal with Brussels by the end of the year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been adamant that he will not seek an extension to the Brexit transition period to enable talks to continue if there is no agreement by the December 31 deadline.
“I can’t say any more than the PM did,” Mr Raab told the committee.
“The negotiating texts have been exchanged. I would have thought in the 21st century there is scope for this to be done through teleconferencing and remotely – at least for the period it is required.
“I won’t go any further than the PM at this point. We don’t want to extend, we want to get this done. We don’t want any more uncertainty than we have already had from this process.”
His comments came as the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, disclosed that he had tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.
“I am doing well and in good spirits. I am following all the necessary instructions, as is my team,” he tweeted.
“For all those affected already, and for all those currently in isolation, we will get through this together.”