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Queue-jumping? Global vaccine shortage imperils Glasgow climate talks

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 19 May 2021 17:37 GMT

A person receives a dose of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, as South Africa rolls out the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination to the elderly at the Munsieville Care for the Aged Centre outside Johannesburg, South Africa May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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As poor countries focus on immunising the most vulnerable as vaccines run short, climate negotiators could miss out, health experts say

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, May 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Poorer nations struggling to access COVID-19 vaccines may make the "moral" choice not to send delegates to November's U.N. climate summit in Scotland if others more in need of the doses remain at risk, climate and health experts warned on Wednesday.

Giving climate-talks delegates priority in vaccine-short countries would go against the principle of not "jumping the queue", Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, deputy director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told journalists in an online briefing.

Such a move could dim prospects for success at the high-profile COP26 climate conference, which aims to swiftly ramp up action on climate change as the world veers toward failing on its targets to curb dangerous planetary heating.

After negotiations were postponed in 2020, COP26 organisers hope to hold the key gathering in person - but the pandemic has complicated efforts to safely bring tens of thousands of delegates and observers from around the world to Glasgow.

Britain's COP26 president, Alok Sharma, said last week that decisions had yet to be made about whether conference attendees must be vaccinated, but noted that "the safety of people in Glasgow and the UK, as well as delegates" was a priority.

If vaccines are required, Ogwell Ouma said African nations might decide delegates would not be "preferentially vaccinated" before others on national priority lists if supplies remained insufficient.

So far the continent has received just 38 million doses out of more than a billion distributed around the world - far too few for its population of more than a billion, he said.

That has left even healthcare workers and other highly vulnerable people without protection, he said, urging wealthy countries ahead of an upcoming G7 leaders' summit in June to boost vaccine supplies for poorer nations.

Failing to do so could harm efforts to reach climate and other key international goals, he warned, noting "generosity is a strategic issue" for rich G7 nations.

Ulka Kelkar, climate programme director for the World Resources Institute in India, said with vaccines running short in her country amid a major COVID-19 surge, ensuring vaccine equity was "a fundamental test" of global ethics.

Ongoing battles over rights to technology and patents to produce COVID-19 vaccines have many parallels to the roadblocks in getting clean energy technology - and more climate finance - to developing nations, she added.

"The way we approach technology transfer now in this crisis ... is a test of our values," she said.

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network International, a civil society coalition, warned that if G7 governments did not agree to provide more vaccines and "a radical boost" in climate finance, "they can forget any deal in Glasgow".

"We are looking for bold, moral and compassionate leadership" at the June G7 summit, also due to be held in Britain, said South Africa-based Essop.

She called the G7's handling of the COVID-19 crisis "a dress rehearsal for how rich nations would address the climate crisis".

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking in a video message, said G7 countries should provide two-thirds of the estimated $66 billion needed over two years to complete global vaccinations and deliver the U.N.-led COVAX programme to immunise the world's poorest people.

"We require the richest countries to end any selfishness," he said, noting the virus may continue to mutate and threaten even the already-vaccinated if immunisation efforts are not swiftly stepped up.

Spending more now to control the pandemic would be a good investment, he said, because "the value of the additional economic output is in the trillions" of dollars if global trade and movement resume.

Related stories:

Britain wants in-person COP26 climate summit this year

Mid-year climate talks to go ahead virtually in 'crucial year'

Spotlight: Setting the stage for COP26

(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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