The UK is resisting a call by campaigners to postpone critical UN climate talks, promising extra measures to address concerns about safety and inclusiveness in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Climate Action Network (CAN), a global alliance of more than 1,500 climate and environmental campaign groups, urged organisers to postpone the Cop26 summit scheduled for 31 October to 12 November. They cited stark vaccine inequity, rising travel and accommodation costs and high rates of Covid-19 infection in many parts of the world.
“With just two months to go, time has run out for the UK’s vision for a ‘normal and inclusive”’ Cop26,” CAN said in a statement on Tuesday. “It is evident that a safe, inclusive and just global climate conference in early November will be impossible.”
In response to CAN’s concerns, Cop26 president designate Alok Sharma pushed back. He said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report last month “underlines why Cop26 must go ahead this November”. The summit has already been delayed by a year.
“We are working tirelessly with all our partners… to ensure an inclusive, accessible and safe summit in Glasgow with a comprehensive set of Covid mitigation measures,” he said.
CAN argued that going ahead with an in-person event would exclude many government delegates, campaigners and journalists, particularly from developing countries on the UK’s “Covid-19 red list“.
All Cop26 delegates arriving from a red list country will be required to quarantine for five days if they are vaccinated and 10 if they aren’t.
CAN says this would pose “serious and long-lasting implications” for some of the key issues and developing country priorities under negotiations at the talks, including on climate finance, loss and damage and the design of new carbon market rules.
Under the current circumstances, a full and meaningful representation of those on the frontlines of the climate emergency is not possible, it said.
There is mounting frustration among developing country delegates over the slow delivery of vaccines Cop26 organisers promised. Many are worried they will be unable to get jabbed in time for the conference, or face prohibitively expensive travel costs.
The UK government has repeatedly said it wanted to host the “most inclusive Cop ever”. Last week, it said the first doses of AstraZeneca would be administered from this week to every delegate who requested them through the UN Climate Change registration portal.
In his statement on Tuesday, Sharma said the UK government will cover the full quarantine costs of delegates coming to Cop26 from developing countries on the “Covid-19 red list”, regardless of their vaccination status. This will apply when quarantine stays are booked through the government’s MQS system.
One source told Climate Home News this would cost around £11 million ($15m). A spokesperson for the Cop26 team declined to give an estimate.
“Ensuring that the voices of those most affected by climate change are heard is a priority for the Cop26 presidency, and if we are to deliver for our planet, we need all countries and civil society to bring their ideas and ambition to Glasgow,” Sharma said.
Campaigners in developing countries previously told Climate Home they could not book their travel and accommodation to Glasgow until they were sure they would receive vaccines and could secure funding for travel costs.
Last week, Aimé Mbuyi Kalombo, who will lead the Democratic Republic of Congo’s climate team in Glasgow, told Climate Home that without support from the UK government to pay for the cost of quarantine, several of the delegation’s climate finance negotiators would be unable to attend.
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“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,” said Tasneem Essop, CAN’s executive director.
CAN said that to host any in-person event at scale, rich nations needed to support a swift and lasting patent waiver, allowing vaccines to be manufactured in developing countries. It said the call to postpone Cop26 did not imply a postponement of climate action or a boycott of the climate talks.
“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 a rich nations stitch-up of the talks,” warned Mohamed Adow, director of the Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa.