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Network seeks COP26 postponement over COVID-19 vaccination challenges

Climate Action Network (CAN), a global network of over 1500 civil society organisations in over 130 countries working together to fight the climate emergency, on Tuesday, September 7, 2021 called for the UN climate talks – COP26 – to be postponed. The conference is set to take place in early November.

Tasneem Essop
Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network

With just two months to go, the group claims that a safe, inclusive and just global climate conference is impossible given the failure to support access to vaccines to millions of people in poor countries, the rising costs of travel and accommodation, and the uncertainty in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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’,” CAN said in a statement.

It added that such an exclusion “poses serious and long-lasting implications for issues that will be under deliberation at this COP and that are extremely important to developing countries, including on climate finance, loss and damage and carbon market rules, among others.”

CAN stressed that the full and meaningful representation of those on the frontlines of the climate emergency is critical to produce a credible political outcome from COP26.

Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, 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 and be conspicuous by 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.

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“This issue of participation at COP26 is a microcosm of the larger patterns of global injustice and exclusion that we see playing out. CAN has advocated for vaccine equity and a TRIPS waiver on Covid19 vaccines since the start of this year and called out the UK for failing to support a patent waiver at the G7 Summit back in June. Today, according to the WHO, 57% of Europe is fully vaccinated while just about 3% of Africa is.

“Our fight for climate justice and our efforts to hold those in power accountable cannot be delinked from the root causes that continue to perpetuate such inequality and injustice. 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.”

CAN stressed that while the UK COP26 Presidency promised to fast-track vaccines to delegates in need of them, those who applied for this are yet to receive their first jabs.

“We note that the UK COP Presidency has now announced that delegates will be vaccinated this week,” disclosed the group, adding that 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.

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Mohamed Adow, long-time observer of the talks and Director of the Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, said: “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 organisations.

“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 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.”

Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director, Greenpeace International, said: “Authentic climate solutions exist but what is missing is genuine solidarity. Like the pandemic, the climate and biodiversity emergency know no boundaries or nationalities, but it is those least responsible who are the worst impacted. Equity, safety, action and accountability – all of the ingredients for solidarity – must be central to COP26 being the success it has to be. This can only be achieved through timely vaccine access and financial support for quarantine expenses – these elements are all lacking.

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“Rebuilding the essential multilateral trust required for a successful COP26 also means supporting the TRIPS waiver for a People’s Vaccine, delivering on commitments for climate finance for the most vulnerable countries, and kicking fossil fuels out of politics once and for all.”

CAN said it acknowledges the difficulties in holding a COP during a pandemic and that it had set out principles and guidelines for engagement during climate sessions.

“This call to postpone COP26 does not in any way imply a postponement of urgent climate action or a boycott of the climate talks. As accredited observers to the UN climate negotiations, CAN has been a key player in every COP since 1995, advocating for the strongest response from governments to the climate emergency.

“CAN will continue our work to push political leaders to deliver ambitious national climate targets, fulfil their responsibilities on climate finance, phase out fossil fuels and address the needs of the most vulnerable people experiencing loss and damage.

“Escalating climate impacts in every part of the world and the most recent IPCC report are reminders that consistent, urgent and transformative action on the ground to avert the worst of the climate crisis is needed every day, day after day. We continue to hold those in power accountable to this.”  

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