Roundtable: Should COP26 be delayed?

Civil society groups have called for a delay to COP26, but their main aim is to make the UN climate conference fairer and more inclusive
<p>Flooding in South Jakarta, Indonesia. There have been calls from climate-vulnerable countries for the UK to lift the barriers to COP26 entry for their delegates and civil society. (Image: © Greenpeace / Sahrul Manda Tikupadang)</p>

Flooding in South Jakarta, Indonesia. There have been calls from climate-vulnerable countries for the UK to lift the barriers to COP26 entry for their delegates and civil society. (Image: © Greenpeace / Sahrul Manda Tikupadang)

Earlier this month, Climate Action Network, the world’s largest network of NGOs, called for the postponement of the climate change conference (COP26) due to be held in Glasgow in November. They highlighted obstacles faced by negotiators from less developed countries and civil society groups in general.

With new Covid cases once more on the rise, disrupted international travel, lengthy quarantines, and unequal access to vaccines are expected to skew the attendance of the conference in favour of those able to bear the costs.

COP26 is still scheduled to go ahead as planned, according to the organisers, who have made a number of concessions. These include shortening the quarantine period from 10 to five days for vaccinated travellers from countries on the UK’s red list, accepting most types of Covid vaccination and providing vaccinations for delegates. But civil society groups are having difficulty accessing some of these concessions, which will practically exclude them from the events.

So should COP26 still go ahead as scheduled? And if so, what changes will need to be made to make it an inclusive conference?

Hasan Mehedi

Member Secretary, Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED); Chief Executive, CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network)

As a campaigner from Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries, I think the Covid-related rules of the host country make a barrier for equal participation in COP26. Some of the most vulnerable countries, like Bangladesh, Maldives, Philippines and Seychelles, are on the UK’s red list, so the participants from these countries need to be isolated for at least five days (if fully vaccinated) or 10 days (if not fully vaccinated) before participating in the conference. Most of the civil society representatives are not capable of bearing the costs of quarantine. Besides, the psychological pressure of staying 10 days alone is really difficult. You may know that the number of civil society organisations that can participate has been cut almost 50% this year and a big number of climate activists will not be able to participate. Without active participation from civil society organisations from the global south, the COP will turn into a northern club to endorse business proposals of clean technology and climate insurance. In addition, according to the UNFCCC’s NDC Synthesis Report, the goal of the Paris Agreement has not been met. Extended nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are required but, as per the interim NDC Registry, only 12 countries have submitted extended NDCs. Before the COP, the NDCs should be updated to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement.

Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi

Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group; Secretary of the National Environment Commission for the Royal Government of Bhutan

There are so many barriers to participation, and the uncertainty is causing a great deal of concern amongst our LDC [least developed country] delegates. We need assurances from the UK that COP26 will be fully inclusive and fair. Our countries and our people are among the worst affected by climate change. We must not be excluded from talks deciding how the world will deal with this crisis, determining the fate of our lives and livelihoods.

There are 20 countries from our group on the UK’s red list. Even if vaccinated, delegates would need to quarantine for five days. Some LDCs also have requirements to quarantine on return home, to keep communities safe during the pandemic. On top of quarantine requirements in the UK and our home countries, flight routes to Glasgow are not straightforward. Commercial flights out of Pacific island nations are almost non-existent, and some of the regular transiting hubs are not allowing non-residents to fly through.

Without us there, how can COP26 be fair and inclusive? It’s our people who are hardest hit by this ever-worsening crisis.

As our leaders are meeting this month, at the head of delegation and ministerial level, to prepare and strategise, we look forward to attending COP26 in Glasgow. At the same time, we’re just not sure it will be possible for so many LDC negotiators to get to Glasgow. Without us there, how can COP26 be fair and inclusive? It’s our people who are hardest hit by this ever-worsening crisis. They must be well represented in the climate talks. The world cannot risk unambitious and unfair decisions being taken at COP26. There is far too much at stake.

Alok Sharma

COP26 President-Designate

COP26 has already been postponed by one year, and we are all too aware climate change has not taken time off. The recent IPCC report underlines why COP26 must go ahead this November to allow world leaders to come together and set out decisive commitments to tackle climate change.

We are working tirelessly with all our partners … 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.

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.

Tasneem Essop

Executive Director Climate Action Network

The statement from the COP26 President and some other countries that the COP will not be postponed or should go ahead as planned, does not change our position. We continue to remain concerned that even those promised the COP26 vaccines by the UK will not be able to receive them in time. There are new spikes in Covid cases in the UK and elsewhere.

The UK Presidency’s immediate reaction to our statement was to announce it will now cover quarantine costs for red list country participants. This has been a long-standing ask from us over the last months through many internal briefings and letters.

Finally, our statement is also reflective of our position as civil society. Right now it is civil society, and of course from the poorest and most vulnerable countries, facing the most exclusion from this process. That will mean less pressure on polluters to act, less scrutiny on the outcomes and potentially watered-down climate action leading to more suffering for people around the world.