Green groups call for COP26 postponement over fears of covid exclusions

A coalition of more than 1,500 green groups have called on the UK government to postpone November’s COP26 because the global Covid-19 pandemic could mean the exclusion of attendees from red-list countries.

The Climate Action Network said that “with just two months to go, time has run out for the UK’s vision for a ‘normal and inclusive COP26, given the failure to support the access to vaccines to millions of people in poor countries, the rising costs of travel and accommodation, including for quarantine in and outside of the UK and the uncertainty in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The coalition argued that 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 Covid19 ‘red list’”. 

The government has said delegates from red listed countries who are fully vaccinated will have to quarantine on arrival for five days, while unvaccinated delegates will have to quarantine for ten days. 

However, it is offering to fund the quarantine stays for party delegates, observers and media as well as offering jabs to accredited delegates who would be “unable otherwise to get vaccinated”.

But the Climate Action Network said the “full and meaningful representation” of those on the frontlines of the climate emergency is critical to produce a credible political outcome from COP26. 

“We do not believe this is possible under the current circumstances,” it added. 

Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network, said: "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 conspicuous in their absence at  COP26.

“There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the UN climate talks 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 until such time it can be.”

In response, the UK government said it was “working tirelessly” with its partners, including the Scottish Government and the UN, to ensure an “inclusive, accessible and safe summit in Glasgow with a comprehensive set of COVID mitigation measures”. 

“This includes an offer from the UK Government to fund the required quarantine hotel stays for registered delegates arriving from red list areas and to vaccinate accredited delegates who would be unable otherwise to get vaccinated.”

COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma added: “COP26 has already been postponed by one year, and we are all too aware climate change has not taken time off. 

“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.”

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