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Pressure mounts on UK to delay UN climate talks as delegates complain of vaccine gap

By Angela Dewan, CNN

The president of the UN climate change conference COP26 insisted Tuesday that the event scheduled for November in Glasgow “must go ahead in person,” after a network of 1,500 civil society groups dialed up pressure on the UK to postpone the event.

The Climate Action Network (CAN), which includes groups from more than 130 countries, said in a statement that the failure to provide vaccines to millions of people in poor countries, as well as the high costs of travel and accommodation, has made it impossible to ensure the COP26 talks will be “safe, inclusive and just.”

Several of its members have complained that the UK has been slow to deliver the vaccines it had offered delegates with the aim of securing the event against Covid-19. Many developing countries are struggling with vaccine rollouts as wealthier nations bought up huge amounts of the global supply in agreements with pharmaceutical companies, often well before the shots were even approved.

“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 organizations,” said Mohamed Adow, director of the Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, which is part of CAN’s network.

“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. A climate summit without the voices of those most affected by climate change is not fit for purpose.”

CAN Executive Director Tasneem Essop called for the talks to be postponed, saying she was concerned the countries worst affected by the climate crisis would be left out of the very negotiations that implicate them the most.

“There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the UN climate talks and this is now compounded by the health crisis,” Essop said.

“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.”

CAN also said that many delegates had not received their first vaccines. Most Covid-19 vaccines require two shots and are typically spaced out by around least eight weeks. The Glasgow talks are now just two months away.

“Repeated requests to the UK Presidency for clarity around support for logistics and quarantine costs have also not been forthcoming or been made public causing uncertainty and anxiety,” CAN added in its statement.

CAN also expressed concern about the de facto exclusion of journalists and civil society groups from the UK’s coronavirus red-list countries. People who have been in red-list countries within 10 days before arriving to the UK must undergo a costly quarantine in a hotel upon arrival.

Some countries on the red list are among the most vulnerable to climate change, including the Maldives and Bangladesh.

COP26 President Alok Sharma, a British MP, pointed to the UK government’s steps to ensure delegates are offered vaccines, and that those from red-list countries receive fully-funded quarantine accommodation.

In remarks sent to CNN, he said: “COP26 has already been postponed by one year, and we are all too aware climate change has not taken time off. The recent IPCC report underlines why COP26 must go ahead this November to allow world leaders to come together and set out decisive commitments to tackle climate change.”

Delegates who had registered for vaccination would begin receiving their first doses this week, his office told CNN.

Not all civil society groups or vulnerable nations are calling for the talks to be delayed. The Climate Vulnerable Forum, which includes 48 member states from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific, said Tuesday that COP26 must happen in-person in November “with robust Covid-19 measures,” calling for “special support” for vulnerable developing countries.

“This is the most important meeting for the future of the planet and it cannot wait,” it said.

Sharma is currently in China, where he has been discussing “goals” for the talks, he said in a separate Twitter post.

The Glasgow talks are seen as crucial as scientists warn that the world needs to dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions over the next decade to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Global warming of 2 degrees Celsius would result in significant global changes, including more frequent and intense extreme weather events, with some ecosystems passing critical tipping points.

If COP26 goes ahead, it would be one of the largest in-person international events held since the outbreak of Covid-19.

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