The Climate Action Network (CAN), a global network of more than 1,500 civil society organisations in over 130 countries working together to fight the climate emergency, on Tuesday called for the UN climate talks — COP26 — to be postponed in view of the Covid challenges.
The UK government, which is hosting the summit, rejected calls for postponement, saying it is funding quarantine hotels for accredited delegates from “red list” countries.
The conference is set to take place in early November in Glasgow after a year of postponement owing to the pandemic.
Responding to CAN’s concerns, COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma said climate change has not taken time off, which is why COP26 must go ahead in person in November.
“The UK is funding quarantine hotels for accredited delegates from red list countries. This is in addition to our vaccines offer to ensure an inclusive, accessible and Covid-secure summit,” he said in a tweet.
With just two months to go, it is evident that a safe, inclusive and just global climate conference is impossible given the failure to support the access to vaccines to millions of people in poor countries, the rising costs of travel and accommodation, and the uncertainty in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the CAN said in a statement.
An in-person COP in early November would de facto exclude many government delegates, civil society campaigners and journalists, particularly from Global South countries, many of which are on the UK’s Covid-19 ‘red list’, it said.
This exclusion poses serious and long-lasting implications for issues that will be under deliberation at this COP and that are extremely important to develop countries, including on climate finance, loss and damage and carbon market rules, among others. The full and meaningful representation of those on the frontlines of the climate emergency is critical to producing a credible political outcome from COP26.
“Our concern is that those countries most deeply affected by the climate crisis and those countries suffering from the lack of support by rich nations in providing vaccines will be left out of the talks and be conspicuous by their absence at COP26. There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the UN climate talks, between rich and poor nations, and this is now compounded by the health crisis. Looking at the current timeline for COP26, it is difficult to imagine there can be fair participation from the Global South under safe conditions and it should therefore be postponed,” said CAN Executive Director Tasneem Essop.
The UK government, on its official Twitter handle, clarified: “Ensuring the voices of those most affected by climate change are heard is a priority for the COP26 Presidency.”
“Doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are now being transported to delegates who registered to be vaccinated ahead of COP26. The UK is committed to hosting a safe, inclusive and in-person summit. To tackle climate change we need everyone at the same table in Glasgow,” it added.
CAN argued that it has advocated for vaccine equity and a TRIPS waiver on Covid-19 vaccines since the start of this year and called out the UK for failing to support a patent waiver at the G7 Summit back in June.
“Today, 57 per cent of Europe is fully vaccinated while just about three per cent of Africa is. Our fight for climate justice and our efforts to hold those in power accountable cannot be delinked from the root causes that continue to perpetuate such inequality and injustice. The climate talks are important but against the current context of vaccine apartheid they simply cannot proceed by locking out the voices of those who especially need to be heard at this time,” added Essop.
While the UK COP26 Presidency promised to fast-track vaccines to delegates in need of them, those who applied for this are yet to receive their first jabs as of today. “We note that the UK COP Presidency has now announced that delegates will be vaccinated this week,” the CAN said.
Repeated requests to the UK Presidency for clarity around support for logistics and quarantine costs have also not been forthcoming or made public, it said.
“The UK has been too slow in delivering its vaccines support to delegates in vulnerable countries and their quarantine requirements come with some eye-watering hotel costs. Some delegates are finding they cannot transit because some of the major travel hubs are closed and the alternative travel costs are beyond the reach of poorer governments and smaller civil society organisations.
“If COP26 goes ahead as currently planned, I fear it is only the rich countries and NGOs from those countries that would be able to attend. This flies in the face of the principles of the UN process and opens the door for rich nations stitch-up of the talks. A climate summit without the voices of those most affected by climate change is not fit for purpose,” said Mohamed Adow, long-time observer of the talks and Director of the Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa.
CAN acknowledges the difficulties in holding a COP during a pandemic. This call to postpone COP26 does not in any way imply a postponement of urgent climate action or a boycott of the climate talks, it said.
As accredited observers to the UN climate negotiations, CAN has been a key player in every COP since 1995, advocating for the strongest response from governments to the climate emergency.