A global coalition of more than 1,500 green groups on Tuesday called for the U.N. COP26 climate talks to be postponed due to fears that delegates from the world’s most vulnerable countries face exclusion.
The groups, which include Climate Action Network International (CAN-I) and Greenpeace, said it was “impossible” to hold the talks in a way that allowed everyone to participate safely, citing unequal access to vaccines, difficulty obtaining connecting flights to Europe and a lack of financial support for delegates who must quarantine ahead of the talks.
”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,” said Tasneem Essop, executive director of CAN-I.
The U.K. government will require unvaccinated attendees from red zone countries to quarantine for 10 days ahead of the November talks. Those who have received a full dosage of any COVID-19 vaccine face a five-day quarantine. Currently, every name on the 62-country U.K. red list is a developing country under U.N. climate rules, except Turkey.
With the standard rate for a 10-day hotel quarantine in the U.K. coming to £2,285, the cost of attendance is fast stretching government budgets — let alone those of civil society or indigenous groups.
“We barely managed to get money for the flights, and to book two weeks in a pricey city like Glasgow, to on top have to pay an extra £1,000 we don’t have will make it hard if not impossible for many of our delegation to attend,” said a Latin American government official.
The host city of Glasgow is also running out of available rooms: The official COP26 accommodation provider currently only lists rooms in Edinburgh, a 50-minute train ride away.
The NGO statement yielded an immediate result. The British government announced on Tuesday morning it would fund in full hotel stays for delegates, observers and media from red zone countries who need to quarantine. The U.K. has already promised to give AstraZeneca vaccines to all delegates who cannot receive them in their home country. That program will begin this week.
“COP26 has already been postponed by one year, and we are all too aware climate change has not taken time off,” Alok Sharma, the U.K. minister in charge of COP26, said in an emailed statement. “We are working tirelessly with all our partners, including the Scottish Government and the U.N., to ensure an inclusive, accessible and safe summit in Glasgow with a comprehensive set of COVID mitigation measures.
“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.”
The NGOs’ call does not entail a move to boycott the talks, they said. But it increases pressure on the U.K. to step up its support for participants from developing countries.
“No one wants this delayed but everyone understands developing countries have legitimate concerns on vaccines,” said someone with knowledge of the discussions among the green groups.
“Further postponement is unnecessary,” said Giza Gaspar-Martins, a climate diplomat from Angola, a red zone country. “There are important items that need to be sorted. Delegations need not be large and side events can be significantly reduced. The U.K. must make the necessary adjustments to allow for inclusiveness.”
Some delegates argue that the talks should be moved fully online rather than postponed.
“Vulnerable countries will suffer most if COP decisions are deferred,” said Carlos Fuller, a climate diplomat from Belize, an amber list country. “The U.K. is planning for a hybrid event. I think everything is still up in the air. If we cannot meet in person, we should meet virtually and adopt decisions.”
The U.K. government has been adamant that COP26 will go ahead in person. But in its advice for participation, published Monday, the U.N. climate body included mention of a digital platform “to enable remote participation in multilateral negotiations.” A U.K. spokesperson said the platform was only meant to be used for delegates who were actually in Glasgow, but away from the venue.
The U.N. also said access to the main plenary would be restricted to two delegates per country. A U.N. official would not confirm whether that means observers and members of the media would be barred from the plenary.