‘COP26 must be postponed’ – Climate Action Network

Vaccine inequity, unaffordable accommodation, travel challenges and new surges in the Covid19 pandemic will lock out huge numbers of developing country delegates from the UN climate talks set to take place in November.


7 September 2021: Climate Action Network (CAN), a global network of more than 1500 civil society organisations in over 130 countries working together to fight the climate emergency, has today called for the UN climate talks – COP26 – to be postponed. The conference is set to take place in early November.

With just two months to go, it is evident that a safe, inclusive and just global climate conference is impossible given the failure to support the access to vaccines to millions of people in poor countries, the rising costs of travel and accommodation, and the uncertainty in the course of the Covid19 pandemic.

An in-person COP in early November would de facto exclude many government delegates, civil society campaigners and journalists, particularly from Global South countries, many of which are on the UK’s Covid19 ‘red list’.

This exclusion poses serious and long-lasting implications for issues that will be under deliberation at this COP and that are extremely important to developing countries, including on climate finance, loss and damage and carbon market rules, among others. The full and meaningful representation of those on the frontlines of the climate emergency is critical to produce a credible political outcome from COP26.

”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 be conspicuous by their absence at COP26. There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the UN climate talks, between rich and poor nations, and this is now compounded by the health crisis. Looking at the current timeline for COP26, it is difficult to imagine there can be fair participation from the Global South under safe conditions and it should therefore be postponed,” said Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network.

“This issue of participation at COP26 is a microcosm of the larger patterns of global injustice and exclusion that we see playing out. CAN has advocated for vaccine equity and a TRIPS waiver on Covid19 vaccines since the start of this year and called out the UK for failing to support a patent waiver at the G7 Summit back in June. Today, 57% of Europe is fully vaccinated while just about 3% of Africa is. Our fight for climate justice and our efforts to hold those in power accountable cannot be delinked from the root causes that continue to perpetuate such inequality and injustice. 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,” added Essop.

While the UK COP26 Presidency promised to fast-track vaccines to delegates in need of them, those who applied for this are yet to receive their first jabs as of today. We note that the UK COP Presidency has now announced that delegates will be vaccinated this week.

Repeated requests to the UK Presidency for clarity around support for logistics and quarantine costs have also not been forthcoming or made public.

“The UK has been too slow in delivering its vaccines support to delegates in vulnerable countries and their quarantine requirements come with some eye-watering hotel costs Some delegates are finding they cannot transit because some of the major travel hubs are closed and the alternative travel costs are beyond the reach of poorer governments and smaller civil society organisations. If COP26 goes ahead as currently planned, I fear it is only the rich countries and NGOs from those countries that would be able to attend. This flies in the face of the principles of the UN process and opens the door for a rich-nations stitch-up of the talks. A climate summit without the voices of those most affected by climate change is not fit for purpose,” said Mohamed Adow, long-time observer of the talks and Director of the Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa.

“Authentic climate solutions exist but what is missing is genuine solidarity. Like the pandemic, the climate and biodiversity emergency knows no boundaries or nationalities, but it is those least responsible who are the worst impacted. Equity, safety, action and accountability – all of the ingredients for solidarity – must be central to COP26 being the success it has to be. This can only be achieved through timely vaccine access and financial support for quarantine expenses – these elements are all lacking. Rebuilding the essential multilateral trust required for a successful COP26 also means supporting the TRIPS waiver for a People’s Vaccine, delivering on commitments for climate finance for the most vulnerable countries, and kicking fossil fuels out of politics once and for all,” said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director, Greenpeace International.

CAN acknowledges the difficulties in holding a COP during a pandemic. This call to postpone COP26 does not in any way imply a postponement of urgent climate action or a boycott of the climate talks. As accredited observers to the UN climate negotiations, CAN has been a key player in every COP since 1995, advocating for the strongest response from governments to the climate emergency.

We will continue our work to push political leaders to deliver ambitious national climate targets, fulfil their responsibilities on climate finance, phase out fossil fuels and address the needs of the most vulnerable people experiencing loss and damage.

Escalating climate impacts all over the world and the most recent IPCC report are a reminder that consistent, urgent and transformative action on the ground to avert the worst of the climate crisis is needed everyday, day after day.

We continue to hold those in power accountable to this.

Q&A on CAN’s call for COP26 postponement
  • Why is CAN calling for COP26 to be postponed?

With just two months to go, it is evident that a safe, inclusive and just global climate conference is impossible given the failure to support vaccine access to millions of people in poor countries, the rising costs of travel and accommodation, and the uncertainty in the course of the Covid19 pandemic.

An in-person COP in early November would de facto exclude many government delegates, civil society campaigners and journalists, particularly from Global South countries, many of which are on the UK’s Covid19 ‘red list’.

Ultimately, a purely logistical solution aimed at COP26 participants only does not address the structural issue that lead to such inequity and exclusion. Vaccine donation is not vaccine justice. Today, 57% of Europe is fully vaccinated while only 3% of Africa is. In order to make any in-person meeting at the scale of a COP possible to be held safely and inclusively, rich country governments must take urgent measures to improve vaccine accessibility for developing countries, including but not limited to support for a comprehensive, swift and lasting WTO TRIPS waiver and immediate technology transfer to enable vaccine manufacturing in the Global South.

  • Will CAN boycott COP26 if it goes ahead?

CAN is not calling for a boycott of COP26, rather for a postponement based on concerns around equity and safety and unresolved questions around financial support for quarantine costs and rising accommodation costs in Glasgow.

Having engaged in the UN climate talks as a key player and as an accredited observer, since 1995, CAN understands the significance of the annual UN climate talks. We recognise the urgency of this moment but given the importance of the issues at stake, such as on climate finance, loss and damage and carbon market rules, it is critical to have full and meaningful representation from the Global South – delegates, civil society and media, to get a credible political outcome that benefits those historically on the frontlines of the climate emergency and with the least resources to cope.

Should the COP go ahead as planned, CAN will assess the situation and review our strategy to ensure equitable representation from the Global South, but our priority is safety and equity and we will practice the duty of care towards our members and allies.

  • Does CAN support a virtual COP instead of a physical COP?

Based on the experience and feedback of SB2021 in June, which was a fully online climate session, it is clear that virtual sessions that involve deep and detailed political and technical deliberations are not suitable to be conducted online.
Anticipating barriers to participation such as poor internet connectivity, differences in time zones and translation challenges, CAN produced a set of principles and guidelines for virtual participation. Following the June meeting, the feedback from delegates from small island states and other developing countries did not reflect that the online sessions worked well for them.

Finally, it is not upto CAN to design the COP. We understand the challenges of holding climate negotiations during a pandemic and meeting the varying needs of different countries and contexts but a robust consultative process to arrive at a solution would have been ideal.

  • Why is this call for postponement coming just two months before the COP?

We are making the call for postponement now as we believe we are at a critical juncture. CAN has raised issues of concern with the UK Presidency COP26 team since May. However, information has not been forthcoming or been made public creating uncertainty and anxiety, particularly on the delivery of vaccines under the COP26 programme (which we now understand starts this week) and the issue of support for mandatory quarantine.

Our priority is safety and inclusivity. It is clear the pandemic is not over and new surges threaten to derail even the best set plans and lock out many who live in countries with high case numbers. CAN takes the view that we have a duty of care in this regard and that we need to take this position as a matter of principle based on the ongoing situation of vaccine apartheid.

  • What about recent news that the UK has shipped vaccines to COP26 delegates ?

We note that the UK has said those who applied for the vaccines under the COP26 programme will receive their first doses by mid-September and the second dose by mid October. For many, this is already too late giving them little time to finalise travel, secure visas and book accommodation.

The question for support for quarantine stays, in and outside the UK, has not been resolved. This would be a deal-breaker for those on a tight budget as accommodation costs in Glasgow and nearby places have skyrocketed. We understand the need to ensure safety measures such as isolation and quarantine as this is the best public health policy to contain the spread of the virus and should not be compromised. It is also not clear how the UK’s red list countries will change over the next months and how this will impact those who have booked travel.

  • CAN is asking for COP26 to be postponed, does CAN think the climate urgency can wait another year?

Certainly not. The climate crisis and the health crisis have compounded effects on thosemost vulnerable as we have witnessed over the past 1.5 years. The most recent IPCC report indicates we are fast running out of time and the climate catastrophes occuring in every part of the world bring home the message that climate action cannot be delayed.

CAN has been a key player in all the UN climate talks since their inception in 1995. We understand the importance of the COPs in bringing all governments together to decide on a global course of action to a common challenge. But given the inherent power imbalance between rich and poor countries within the talks it is critical that we have the full and meaningful participation of developing countries to be able to have a credible outcome from the COP. Without this, issues such as climate finance, loss and damage, carbon market rules run the risk of being decided by the most powerful countries who have often blocked progress and put their interests before those of vulnerable countries. At the same time, COP is not the only place where we achieve ambition and a lot of action must happen in the national capitals to bridge the gap.
Major political moments such as the UN high-level meeting this month and the G20 Summit in October are also opportunities to drive climate action.

  • The UK government has this week promised vaccines (and possibly logistics support); do you now call off the decision on postponement?

We will not call off our request for postponement. If the COP goes ahead as planned, CAN will assess our strategy and decide how best we will engage and ensure equitable representation of the Global South. As mentioned above, we do not plan to boycott the COP but the risk of participation remains very high, both in terms of people’s health and costs.
We believe a decision to go ahead with a two-week global gathering of thousands places an undue burden on delegates travelling from afar and the local population and will continue to pose a serious health risk even in two months time, as it is clear that Covid19 cases are on the rise in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

We welcome this step. CAN has presented a package of concerns and measures that would need to be considered to ensure a safe and equitable COP. Piecemeal announcements on a day to day basis by the UK government will not be helpful. We are not negotiating through the media. We need them to communicate a comprehensive plan and measures to all parties, observers and other delegates, especially those affected in the Global South. And they need to do this urgently.

They know what the concerns are, they know what needs to be done. As Constituencies we have been calling on the UK government to present their plans for a safe and equitable COP since May. The ongoing uncertainties and lack of clarity about their plans has caused immense anxiety amongst our Global South members. With time running out, this anxiety increases. This is not a simple matter of booking a ticket and hopping on a plane to get to Glasgow, especially with Red Lists changing often. The sooner the UK government understands this, and acts, the better.

We still believe a decision to go ahead with a two-week global gathering of thousands will continue to pose a serious health risk, even in two months’ time. It is clear that Covid19 cases are on the rise in the UK and elsewhere in the world. And access to vaccines in many poorer countries is not keeping pace. Addressing the logistical arrangements for the COP should be part of a wider plan to ensure the health and safety of all from the pandemic. Vaccine inequity must be addressed by rich nations. No one is safe until everyone is safe.

  • How many delegates will be impacted by the high costs of travel and lack of access to vaccines?

We do not have the figures on this but this is also something we have requested information on. We do not know, for instance, how many delegates are dependent on the vaccines under the COP26 programme to attend.
Within CAN it is clear that our members from the Global South will be disproportionately impacted by the COP going ahead as planned. Representation of our southern nodes and members has always been a challenge. The last three COPs have taken place in Europe and this one will be in the UK. The barriers to participation have always been high, in securing visas and fundraising to participate.
This call for postponement was based on a series of dialogues within the network led by those most impacted by the current situation.