Over the next few weeks, one of the most anticipated rounds in international climate negotiations will take place at the United Nations summit. However, many of those on the frontlines of climate change will not be present: representatives from island nations that could be at risk from rising seas, members of indigenous tribes and activists who often turn high-level negotiations into raucous events through their demonstrations.
The five-year anniversary of Paris climate agreements is celebrated at the 26th Annual United Nations Conference of Parties (COP26). Nearly every country on Earth was represented by signatories who agreed to limit global temperature rise to a level that could be managed for humanity. These nations are far from meeting their goals. The summit attracts thousands of people every year without badges. This allows them to push for specific policies. These activists will have a harder time making their voices heard this year as Paris accord signatories are asked to attend with greater ambitions.
Because of the lack of vaccine rollout and red tape, they won't be coming. Those who were able overcome those obstacles did so at great cost and foresee more difficulties on the ground.
What will this do to a just and balanced outcome?
Adrin Martinez, the founder and director of La Ruta Del Clima, a Costa Rica-based NGO, says that it is difficult to negotiate a fair amount when you are exhausted and feel unfair. What will this do to a just and balanced outcome?
Many participants this year are from developing and vulnerable countries and want to raise money to help those areas that have suffered irreparable and permanent damage due to climate change. People living on low-lying islands like the Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea, have begun to leave their homes. Since Paris, the battle to recognize loss and damage has been ongoing. Advocates are now fighting that fight with one hand tied behind their backs.
According to The Guardian, a third of the small islands and territories in the Pacific won't send any government officials to negotiate for them. These countries are among the most at-risk to rising sea levels. Instead, they will tap into people from their missions in Europe and the USA.
These nations worked to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees rather than the 2 degrees desired by other countries during the Paris negotiations. This half-degree difference means that 40,000 people will see their land flooded by rising seas by 2050. The Paris agreement gave the small islands nations a kind of half-victory. The agreement's language ended up requiring countries to keep global average temperatures below 2C, well below pre-industrial levels.
The UK organizers stated that they would provide vaccines for delegates who required them, but did not begin providing first doses until two months before the summit which begins on October 31. This didn't allow for enough time to get two-dose vaccines and make travel plans that meet the UK's COVID restrictions. Martinez stated that the UK required red-listed visitors to be quarantined in a hotel for up 10 days after their arrival. This was a significant cost to many who were traveling to the conference, which would have been $3,600 per person.
Participants were often hit with higher bills due to last-minute changes that were sometimes beyond their control. Martinez and his coworkers booked an Airbnb close to the summit six months before. The host increased the cost by more than a third just weeks before the conference. They raced to find somewhere else and settled for lodging in Edinburgh, which is more than an hour drive from Glasgow.
It will be my first time actually leaving my home.
Participants are nervous even though they have travel plans in place. It will be my first time ever leaving my home. Our country has been severely ravaged by COVID. I've suffered personal losses," says Tasneem, the executive director of International Climate Action Network. She lives in South Africa. It's a bit traumatizing for me to think of actually traveling to Glasgow and being a part of such a big event. But I am going.
These added stressors eventually sap energy from advocacy, negotiations and the summit itself, which can often last for hours. Martinez states that all this disruption has resulted in a reduction of delegations from the Global South. Martinez says that this means there are fewer subject matter experts available to address certain priorities. Delegates might also not be able take breaks and tap each other during long negotiations. He believes this creates an uneven playing ground because wealthy nations are more likely to have the resources to fund and vaccinate larger delegations, which could give them greater influence during negotiations.
Greenpeace and the Climate Action Network actually pressed COP26 organizers to postpone the summit last month. Summit organizers refused to budge after they had delayed the negotiations for over a year due to the pandemic.
The structural silencing and suppression of thousands of people
The COP26 Coalition is a coalition of environmental organizations that started a program to assist potential attendees in obtaining visas and fulfilling requirements to attend the summit. There were over 150 cases that needed to be filled. Two-thirds of those they tried to help decided to not attend. Rachael Osgood was the international logistics and immigration coordinator of the coalition.
This is structural silencing that has resulted in the death of thousands. Osgood states that those thousands represent the most affected regions around the globe. They are millions. This is a death sentence for those at the frontline of this crisis.