Inequity defines COP26 even before it opens

Inequity defines COP26 even before it opens

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The UN Climate Change Summit, known as COP26, which is set to open in the Scottish city of Glasgow on Sunday, has been billed variously as the last chance to save the planet from climate change doom and the final red line that humanity cannot afford to cross if it wants to save the Earth and its biosphere.
Hence, it is of utmost importance for the organizers and hosts — the UK — to ensure that, not only does the meeting produce an outcome that is a dramatic improvement on the Paris Agreement that was reached six years ago during COP21, but also one that actually ensures humanity takes a step back from the red line it is currently set to cross in the next few years.
It is imperative for the UN that, if any agreement is reached in Glasgow, it is one that can be implemented with certainty and with strict checks and controls on those nations and businesses that make commitments to rapidly cut their carbon emissions. It also must be an agreement that reflects the concerns and needs of each part of the world and every section of the global population — whether rich, powerful and numerous or poor, isolated and small.
But activists and governments from various countries have already warned that the Glasgow meet could turn out to be one of the most exclusionary meetings ever held under the aegis of the UN, since the poor and small nations, many of which are among the hardest hit by climate change, are likely to be heavily under-represented in Glasgow. This is because of two key challenges affecting attendance at COP26.
The first issue is that of pandemic-related travel restrictions, which continue to severely impact the global travel industry. Not only do different countries have different sets of rules for travelers that are entirely incoherent when put together, but these rules keep changing at the drop of a hat.
Also hurting people’s ability to travel is the fact that most airlines continue to keep a large part of their fleet grounded due to low demand. This has led to huge challenges for delegates from countries that were already poorly connected, notably many small African countries and island nations, many of them in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.
But the bigger issue is the fact that the UK has mandated that anyone wishing to travel to the country to attend COP26 must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This is enough to exclude a large majority of activists, as well as government personnel from most African and small island nations, due to the huge disparity in vaccination rates around the world.
For instance, Tanzania, one of the larger African nations, has so far only managed to fully vaccinate less than 2 percent of its population, while for Africa’s biggest country Nigeria the figure is just 1.36 percent. The story is not much better for the 38 Small Island Developing States, a group that brings together the countries that are not only among the poorest in the world, but are also most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Papua New Guinea has 1.17 percent of its population fully vaccinated, while the Solomon Islands is barely better with 4.43 percent.

Crucial climate change summit already heavily loaded against poor countries and small island nations.

Ranvir S. Nayar

In such a situation, it is evident that many people, especially those from civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations working in the domain of climate change, will not be able to make it to Glasgow and make their voices heard.
Several months ago, the UK announced a program to send vaccines to all those who had registered to attend COP26, but leading NGOs have complained that less than 1 percent of those who sought to use this offer have been vaccinated so far. The poor vaccination rates, as well as problems in getting British visas, led several global environmental organizations to last month issue an appeal to the UN and the UK government to postpone COP26 to 2022 in order to ensure equal participation from the marginalized sections of the global population. They claimed that, if the conference goes ahead without proper representation from these countries, their concerns and voices will go unheard and any new agreement would be exclusionary and even punitive for them.
It is not just travel and vaccinations that are hurdles in the path of a well-represented meeting in Glasgow. Even for those fortunate enough to have been vaccinated and obtained the visas to travel to the UK, another problem relates to the extremely high expenses involved in participating at the event. This is due to sky-high accommodation costs in Glasgow and the high cost of putting up pavilions or stands at the conference venue, partly due to the severe shortage of workers the UK has been facing for almost the entire year.
Along with smaller NGOs with poor resources, the high cost of participation at Glasgow has caused a huge global organization like the World Resources Institute to scale back the size of its presence, making it harder for it to represent its interests.
The price of accommodation began spiraling almost a year ago, as the Scottish press reported in January that hotels and rental apartments had raised their tariffs for bookings during COP26 by up to 500 percent compared to their normal prices in November.
In view of these challenges, it is vital for the organizers to ensure that the issues of relevance and importance to the likes of the Small Island Developing States are properly addressed and not brushed under the carpet, as has been the norm in past multilateral meetings. Even in Paris, these nations complained that a handful of large, rich countries agreed on key drafts in closed-door meetings and the rest of the world was simply expected to sign on blindly.
It is the UN’s responsibility to ensure that, this time, any draft agreement is kept as a draft and finalized only when the opinions and concerns of the small nations are fully addressed.

Ranvir S. Nayar is managing editor of Media India Group.

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