The UK has been accused of shutting out activists who hail from countries “battered” by extreme weather events from the upcoming UN climate summit, with campaigners warning it could be “the most exclusionary COP ever”.
Critics include a youth member in the team of the UN COP26 “High Level Champions”, appointed by the UK government, who called the situation a “charade”.
Civil society activists hoping to attend the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November say the government has not provided the “minimum conditions to guarantee their participation” and to keep them safe.
The warnings come despite assurances from summit President Alok Sharma that “all voices” would be heard at the event.
Responding to the concerns, a government COP26 spokesperson said delegates would be receiving an invitation to attend a vaccine appointment shortly.
The obstacles include quarantine rules for “red list” countries, a lack of Covid vaccines around the world, and difficulties getting visas to enter the UK.
Those blocked include around 100 “badged and accredited” people from civil society groups who were booked to attend the summit as observers, according to the COP26 Coalition, a UK-based climate campaign group.
People from Latin America, the Philippines, parts of Africa, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have told the Coalition they are facing obstacles. The group is raising funds to pay visa fees and quarantine hotel costs for those hoping to attend as part of a Visa Support Service.
Rachael Osgood, the group’s Visa Support Service Coordinator, said: “This month, as scientists and governments proclaimed that we are at code red for humanity, millions in poorer countries are already drowning, starving, thirsty and on the run for safety due to this crisis.
“If these people are not at the COP26 table in November, how can any decisions made at that table be in their interest?”
She added: “If those being battered by climate change on the frontlines are outnumbered by big business lobbyists at COP26, rich nations will once again sacrifice the poorest so as to avoid doing their fair share to tackle this crisis.
“This crisis has reached deadly proportions worldwide, and the UK is only interested in preserving its own short-term interests. ”
Around 87 percent of adults in the UK have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine. In some countries as few as 1.4 percent have been vaccinated, with the World Health Organisation this week noting the “shocking disparity” in global access to vaccines.
COP26 President Alok Sharma has said this year’s event will be “an inclusive summit, where all voices are heard, including the voices of developing countries, women, young people and indigenous peoples”
‘Barriers Remain for Global South’
Azul Schvatzman, from Argentina, is a Policy coordinator at Eco House Global and a Youth Fellow in the UN COP26 High Level Champions team, said: “Having observers and press unable to participate makes COP a charade.
“A COP without us, the people, would be a huge setback, which will keep the status quo, let governments sleep on their climate targets and big polluters get away with their actions.
“If we want 2021 to be remembered as a year of catalytic climate action, catching up on the costly delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, then we need to be there.”
This week, Climate Action Network Latin America released a statement about conditions at COP26 that said: “With only a few weeks to go before COP26, our NGOs still do not have the minimum conditions to guarantee their participation and safeguard the health and lives of our participants.
“Economic barriers and restrictions are increasing without consideration of our right to participate. Our region has been historically underrepresented in the climate talks.”
Maria Alejandra Aguilar from Colombia is an Associate Lawyer and member of the Climate Justice division of Colombian environmental group Ambiente y Sociedad, an active member of Youth Climate Movement (YOUNGO). She said: “Inequality is a root cause of the climate crisis and it also permeates important decision making spaces like COP.
“While the UK government, the COP26 president, has announced over and over that this year’s conference will be the most inclusive in history, much is still to be done to achieve this goal.
“The reality is that barriers remain for the effective and meaningful participation of observers and civil society, especially from the global south. These barriers have been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”
Yusuf Baluch, from Pakistan, of Fridays for Future MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas), said: “Blocking entry of those who are unvaccinated, while failing to deliver on promises to vaccinate those who can’t access the vaccine in their home countries, shows that most affected peoples and areas are being completely ignored.”
A COP26 spokesperson said: “The UK has announced the offer of vaccination to COP26 UNFCCC registered Party, observer and media representatives as part of a wider package of measures we will have in place to be able to host a safe COP26 with in-person participation.
“We are working tirelessly with our partners, including the UN, to get vaccines to those that need them in time for the summit.”
Updated 27/08/2021 to include statement from the government’s COP26 team.