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Global South climate activists doubt COP26 participation over vaccine delay

by Beh Lih Yi & Megan Rowling | @BehLihYi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 1 September 2021 20:02 GMT

A health worker prepares to administer a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in a mobile vaccination truck in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, August 6, 2021. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

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Developing-nation delegates to the key UN climate conference in Scotland have been promised access to a COVID-19 vaccine, but with only two months to go, time is running short

* UK offer to vaccinate COP26 delegates has yet to be implemented

* Developing-country representatives fear high quarantine costs

* Activists worry they may be excluded from key UN talks 

(Adds new information on vaccines from UK government)

By Beh Lih Yi and Megan Rowling

KUALA LUMPUR/BARCELONA, Sept 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain is moving too slowly to vaccinate developing-country delegates hoping to travel to November's key U.N. climate talks, activists said, raising concerns they will not be able to afford expensive quarantine and putting their participation at risk.

The British government, which is hosting the event, has offered to vaccinate attendees who cannot otherwise get inoculated against COVID-19 ahead of the crucial COP26 climate conference, due to take place from Oct. 31-Nov. 12 in Scotland.

But vaccines promised under the UK-led plan have yet to be administered, with just two months to go before COP26, climate campaign groups said.

As a result, some delegates are now considering sitting out the meeting due to the uncertainties and expected high costs.

"We have people who have registered for the vaccine but the vaccination process (Britain) promised hasn't even started," said Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development, a regional alliance that promotes climate justice.

Responding to the concerns late Wednesday, the UK government said all delegates had now been contacted about how to book appointments, adding that AstraZeneca vaccines from Britain were being transported to those who need them.

First doses of the vaccines would be administered by mid-September, with the second doses due in mid-October, it added.

That would allow for a two-week period for the vaccine to become fully effective before recipients attend the COP26 conference, it said.

"Working with our partners, we are on track to support all those registered to be vaccinated ahead of the summit. This includes starting to administer first doses of AstraZeneca from next week," said a spokesman for the UK government's COP26 team.


Climate activists in Africa and Latin America told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the need for a two-week wait after a second dose, to allow for sufficient COVID-19 protection to build, meant there was no time to lose in starting vaccinations.

Vaccination will not be mandatory for COP26 delegates, but it remains unclear how the UK government plans to ensure the health and safety of attendees if not all are inoculated.

Mohamed Adow, a Nairobi-based African climate expert who has attended every annual U.N. climate conference since 2009, stressed that participants from so-called "red list" countries like Kenya - with high levels of COVID-19 infections - would be required to quarantine in hotels before attending COP26, whether vaccinated or not.

Many developing countries are on the red list for England and Scotland, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

The British government said in August it would relax some travel restrictions to help delegates attending COP26, including halving the standard quarantine period to five days for those from "red list" countries who have been vaccinated.

But "the costs (of quarantine) are beyond the reach of some poorer governments and smaller civil society organisations", said Adow, who runs a think-tank called Power Shift Africa.

He urged the British government to pay the bill for required quarantine for participants.


Activists said uncertainty over logistical arrangements for the conference - billed as the last chance to galvanise the action needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius - threatened to hike travel and accommodation costs. Costa Rica-based Adrián Martinez, founder and director of La Ruta del Clima, a nonprofit working to expand public awareness on climate change, said it had been difficult for civil society groups to decide which, if any, staff could attend COP26.

That uncertainty was "psychologically... very hard", he said, calling on Britain to clarify arrangements for the conference as soon as possible.

"We haven't had time to actually think about the core issues that we're going to advocate (for at COP26) because we don't know if we're going," he added.

The U.N. climate change secretariat said it had hoped to receive details of Britain's plans for COP26 by the end of August, but had yet to obtain that information as of Wednesday.

Manila-based Nacpil, who has attended the annual talks since 2007 as an observer, said the challenges related to vaccines, visas and quarantine were discouraging people from regions most at risk from climate change from attending the talks.

"The most vulnerable countries to climate are also the ones that are having all these major COVID-19 problems and are marginalised from vaccine access," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. "This is a triple injustice."

Climate groups in developing countries had been discussing in recent days whether to skip the conference entirely, given the health risks and financial costs, she added.

In recent months, British officials have insisted the COP26 summit will be "inclusive" and will push forward work on issues that are a high priority for poorer nations on the frontlines of climate change impacts, including finance and adaptation.

But African expert Adow said that, as things stand, he feared only governments and civil society organisations from rich countries would be able to attend in significant numbers.

"This flies in the face of the principles of the U.N. process," he said. "A climate summit without the voices of those most affected by climate change is not fit for purpose."

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(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi and Megan Rowling; Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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