A coalition of more than 1,500 environmental groups spanning 130 countries is calling for an upcoming United Nations climate summit to be postponed amid spiking COVID-19 cases.
The Climate Action Network argued on Tuesday that proceeding with plans for COP26 summit would increase the possibility that government delegates and journalists from developing countries would run into travel restrictions designed to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Many of the nations that would be affected, Climate Action Network noted, are the countries already disproportionately affected by climate change.
“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 of the talks and conspicuous in their absence at COP26,” Tasneem Essop, the group's executive director, said in a statement. “There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the U.N. climate talks and this is now compounded by the health crisis.’’
Essop added that the attendance issues represent a “microcosm” of equity concerns about crafting international climate policy.
“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,” she said.
Climate Action Network called for further considerations than just logistics, adding that “[i]n order to make any in-person meeting at the scale of a COP possible to be held safely and inclusively in 2022, rich country governments must take urgent steps to provide vaccines at the scale required to deal with the pandemic, to poor countries.”
Those steps include backing a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights waiver from the World Trade Organization that would exclude restrictions on pharmaceutical imports in countries that cannot manufacture their own vaccines.
In the statement, the network noted that in May its leadership laid out what they believe to be non-negotiable principles for international climate talks. These include support to ensure safe travel for representatives from nations in the Global South.
British government leaders have pushed back against postponing COP26 another year, noting that the pandemic has already delayed the meeting at a time when the need to tackle climate change is only increasing, The Associated Press noted.
Alok Sharma, COP26 president-designate, acknowledged the pandemic's effects on the summit, but told the AP that “climate change has not taken time off.”
“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,” he said.
On Tuesday, the European Union’s climate monitoring office reported that average temperatures across Europe have reached the warmest on record this summer, the news service noted.
--Updated at 11 a.m.