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On Tuesday, environmental activists worldwide called for the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow to be postponed once again, citing the continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential inequity it will create in climate talks. British officials and other government leaders say that the November summit must go forward as planned, given the urgency of climate change. Still, activists worry that low vaccine resources and limited travel capability from low-income nations may prevent marginalized communities from having a voice in Glasgow.
Why This Matters: Globally, low-income communities, Indigenous people, and people of color are at the frontlines of climate impacts. Countries suffering the most from these impacts often have the least resources for climate adaptation, climate recovery, and attending climate summits. Despite many wealthy nations taking up the mantle of global climate leadership, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres says they’re not doing enough to fund climate action in low-income nations. As the pandemic further decimates economies and vaccine distribution moves slowly, there’s concern that the voices of these most-impacted communities may be silenced. It’s up to wealthy countries to ensure equity at the COP26 conference, but activists aren’t confident that they’ll step up to the plate.
Environment and Equity
“There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the UN climate talks, and this is now compounded by the health crisis,” said Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network, which encompasses hundreds of nonprofit and nongovernmental advocacy groups in 130 countries. Juan Pablo Osornio, senior political lead for Greenpeace International, agrees, “expecting already disadvantaged people to attend without access to vaccines, healthcare, and financial support to overcome the risks of participation, is not only unfair but prohibitive.”
In response, British officials have announced that they will pay for the travel costs of delegates from 60 “red list” countries, including quarantine hotel accommodations, and ensure that they receive vaccinations. British officials also announced that vaccines are already being shipped and that doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will begin to be administered by the end of the week. However, they’re cutting it extremely close; the AstraZeneca vaccine is given in two doses, separated by eight weeks, but to ensure full immunity by the November conference, delegates will be given both doses over only four weeks.
Despite disagreement on how the COP26 conference should proceed, climate activists and government leaders agree on one thing — time is running out to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
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