Many UN climate conferences are hosted by Pacific island nations. It is a stark reminder of the true stakes that leaders of nations that are likely to disappear under rising sea levels make their speeches and build coalitions. These leaders are known for pushing hard for ambitious climate agreements that will protect the most vulnerable nations.
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It was revealed last week that the third of Pacific small island countries and territories did not have any government representatives attending COP26. This is largely due to the quarantine periods their return to Covid-free countries would bring. Reuters reports that only four of these leaders, namely Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and Palau, will attend COP26. The climate crisis is affecting low-lying Pacific Islands. Not only are they being affected by rising temperatures and changing weather patterns but also because rising sea levels threaten whole countries.
COP26 is a high-stakes event due to the deadline for the second round national climate pledges. These are made every five year. This is a critical moment to accelerate climate goals. The UN estimates that the world is on track to see a 2.7C increase in temperature by the year 2030. This is well above the 1.5C Paris Agreement target. It will be devastating for many Pacific Island countries.
While Pacific Islands will still have representation at the conference they are not represented by those in higher government positions. They are not the only ones who will be absent from COP26. Many potential delegates are staying at home due to restrictions such as Covid-19, long visa procedures, rising hotel prices and changing quarantine policies. Alok Sharma, COP president, is beginning to see things differently. His plans to make the conference an inclusive one where all voices are heard are becoming less optimistic.
Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (Bangladesh) and he points out that many of the countries on the UK's travel red lists were poorest developing nations. He says that while the UK has lifted the red-list category for most countries, which has helped many more people attend the conference, it is still unlikely that many of them will make it.
Some find it even more difficult to deal with the UK's confused decisions regarding its red list. The UK agreed to pay the entire cost of quarantine for five days, despite having reduced the hotel stay required by COP26 delegates from 10 to 5. Alejandro Aleman (coordinator of the Latin America branch, Climate International Network) says that many people who had purchased plane tickets to Latin America were forced to pay for five additional days of accommodation when the UK removed 47 countries.
Aleman states that at least four organizations representing CAN Latin America have canceled their participation due to inability to afford extra days. Aleman estimates that about two-thirds (or more) of Latin American civil society members who would normally participate in UN climate negotiations aren't participating in COP26.