The most anticipated round of international climate negotiations this decade will take place at the United Nations summit in Glasgow in the coming weeks. But many representatives from the front lines of the climate crisis will not be there: people from islands that may disappear under rising sea levels, representatives of indigenous tribes, and activists who usually turn high-level negotiations into noisy activities through demonstrations.
The 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties, COP26, is the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement. The signatories include almost all countries on the planet, and they agreed to limit global warming to a level that humans can bear. However, these countries are not close to achieving the goals they have agreed on. In a typical year, the summit also attracted thousands of people without badges into the conference venue to promote certain policies. But this year, when the signatories of the Paris Agreement are asked to come with greater ambitions, it will be harder for these activists to hear their voices. The main reasons they will not come are the pandemic, uneven vaccine promotion and miles of red tape. Those who can overcome these obstacles have paid a huge price and are expected to face more challenges locally.
Adrián Martinez, founder and director of La Ruta Del Clima, a non-governmental organization based in Costa Rica, said: “When you are exhausted, when you feel that something is unfair, you can actually negotiate reasonably… And besides that, you are also afraid of being infected by COVID. How will this affect a balanced and just result?”
This year, many participants from fragile and developing countries hope to donate money to places that have suffered permanent and irreparable damage due to climate change. Some residents of low-lying islands such as Papua New Guinea’s Carteret Islands have begun to abandon their homes. Since the Paris Conference, the struggle to recognize loss and damage has followed one after another. Although advocates are now continuing this struggle, one of their hands has been tied behind their backs.
According to a report by The Guardian last week, one-third of the small island countries and territories in the Pacific are considered the most vulnerable low-lying areas affected by sea level rise and erosion. They will not send any government officials to negotiate on their behalf. Instead, these countries will select personnel from their delegations in Europe or the United States.
During the Paris negotiations, these countries sought to control global warming at 1.5 degrees instead of the less ambitious 2 degrees that other countries hoped. This half-degree difference means that by 2150, 40,000 fewer people worldwide will be swallowed up by rising waters. In Paris, the small island nations won some degree of semi-victory. The language of the agreement finally made countries promise to keep the global average temperature far below the pre-industrial level of 2 degrees Celsius.
Event organizers in the UK said they would provide vaccines to delegates in need, but did not start providing the first dose of vaccines until about two months before the summit that opened on October 31. This does not leave much time to receive two doses of vaccinations or develop travel plans that comply with the UK’s COVID-related restrictions. The United Kingdom requires tourists from “red list” countries to be quarantined in hotels for up to 10 days upon arrival, which is a huge additional cost for many people going to the conference-according to Martinez, up to $3,600 per person .
Last-minute changes-usually beyond the control of attendees-put attendees on higher bills. Martinez and his colleagues booked an Airbnb hotel near the summit six months in advance. But a few weeks before the meeting, the landlord doubled the price. They rushed to find other places to stay and decided to stay in Edinburgh-more than an hour’s drive from Glasgow.
Even though the travel plan has been finalized, the participants are very anxious. “This will be the first time I have basically stepped out of the house. COVID has caused very serious damage to our country. I have already suffered a personal loss,” said Tasneem Esspo, executive director of the International Climate Action Network in South Africa. “Yes. For me, you know, the thought of going to Glasgow and attending this big event is a bit painful. But I want to go.
All these additional pressures eventually consumed the energy of propaganda and negotiations at the summit, which are often carried out around the clock. Martinez said: “All this interference has definitely reduced many delegations from the Global South.” This means that there are fewer subject-matter experts dealing with certain priorities, and delegates may not be able to rest by beating each other during long negotiations. He pointed out that this creates an unfair playing field because richer countries may have the resources to vaccinate and fund larger delegations-he fears that this may give them more influence in the talks .
The Climate Action Network and Greenpeace actually pushed the COP26 organizers to postpone the summit last month. But after the negotiations have been postponed for a year due to the pandemic, the summit organizers have not made concessions.
A coalition of environmental groups called the COP26 Coalition began implementing a program this year to help potential attendees obtain visas and meet the summit requirements. It has over 150 public cases. Among them, two-thirds of the people they asked for help ultimately decided not to participate. Rachael Osgood, the coalition’s chief immigration and international logistics coordinator, said this may be just a small part of everyone who ends up in the cracks.
“This is a structural silence for thousands of people. And these thousands speak for the most affected areas in the world,” Osgood said. “They represent millions of people. And for everyone in this crisis For those on the front line, they have almost no representatives, and this is a death sentence.”