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An explosive green group demand on Tuesday to postpone the U.N. COP26 talks was furiously denounced by vulnerable countries for ignoring the danger they face from climate change.
A group of 1,500 NGOs, including Climate Action Network International and Greenpeace, said the talks should not go ahead on November 1 due to concerns over the expense and lack of access to COVID vaccines among delegates from poor countries.
But the countries themselves aren’t especially keen on the NGO effort. On Tuesday morning, the 45 countries making up the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) released a collective statement that said COP26, already delayed by a year, must go ahead as planned.
“The COP is for the nations, for the vulnerable nations. We need emission cuts,” CVF Ambassador Mohamed Nasheed, the speaker of the Maldives parliament, told POLITICO. “We need adaptation pledges, funding. We need both. And we do not want a situation where this conversation is delayed. It’s already delayed for too long. It’s an emergency.”
A clearly angry Nasheed said the CVF had not been consulted by CAN International. “There was no conversation, we were not told at all. And it’s very difficult to see how they can advocate for us without talking to us,” he said. POLITICO asked several other developing country diplomats if they agreed with the call to postpone. All of them said no, although they agreed access was a problem.
Responding to the CVF’s complaints, CAN International Executive Director Tasneem Essop said the organization had not consulted with any national representatives because it was “not a mouthpiece for governments, whatever bloc they are a part of … Right now it is civil society and of course, from the poorest and most vulnerable countries, facing most exclusion from this process … This statement from CAN is a stand based on our principles.”
After the U.K. government said Tuesday it would cover the cost of delegates traveling from red zone countries staying in quarantine hotels, Essop called the response “piecemeal” and maintained it was not possible to host a fair and safe event. The call to postpone was later joined by a coalition of dozens of U.K.-based NGOs and the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists.
Vaccines and climate change
Essop and Greenpeace Director Jennifer Morgan said they wanted the U.K. and other wealthy nations to act on global vaccine inequity, including through patent waivers, to address the root causes of the divide between rich and poor.
“Authentic climate solutions exist but what is missing is genuine solidarity,” said Morgan.
Essop added: “Vaccine inequity must be addressed by rich nations. No one is safe until everyone is safe.”
Nasheed, whose atoll nation is immediately threatened by rising sea levels, said the danger of the pandemic was outweighed by the need to resolve climate change.
“Even in the face of death, we must meet. The alternative is the death of the planet,” he said, adding: “It’s all very well for middle-class Europeans to say that … but we need a result. For us not having a result … is far, far more worse than anything else. So we need this to happen.”
He also downplayed worries about accessibility for delegates from remote or red zone countries. “I fail to see that. I have not heard of … any of these concerns, and I’m in the middle of it.”
Nasheed — a former Maldives president who has lived in London since an assassination attempt in May — was in Rotterdam on Tuesday for a meeting on adaptation also attended by delegates from several African countries.
“I can’t see why it should be an issue at all. Our airport is open, there are flights coming,” he said. “The pressure groups might not be able to come. But that is no reason why we should not try and build international consensus on how to act and what else to do.”
The NGO announcement also marked a spectacular breakdown in relations between the U.K. climate talks presidency and CAN International, which is the world’s largest network of climate NGOs and traditionally plays an important role in the U.N. climate process. The rupture came after months of behind-the-scenes lobbying between the civil society groups and the U.K. COP26 organizing team.
According to a log of the engagements, seen by POLITICO, the NGO met or communicated with U.K. officials at least 10 times since March, including a call with COP26 President Alok Sharma. It repeatedly asked the U.K. to admit that hosting a normal event was impossible under pandemic conditions and to deliver a detailed plan to ensure no one was excluded.
But the U.K. failed to deliver a plan that satisfied the NGOs, Essop said. The COP26 unit declined to comment.
“The logistical briefings from the COP team have been heavy on details selling Glasgow as a venue: how beautiful the city is, how amazing the venue is, the proposed menu, where private jets can land — everything but the details that matter for a safe and inclusive COP,” she said.
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