/ 8 October 2021

Covid may collapse climate talks

Britain Climate Environment Politics
Determined: Climate change demonstrators from the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion protest in central London, promising two weeks of disruption. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)


This year’s key climate negotiations, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), happen at the end of this month in Scotland. Since Brexit, the United Kingdom is desperate for a showpiece to prove that there is such a thing as “Global Britain”.

The stakes are high. Research by the UN showed last month that global temperatures are on course to rise to 2.7°C higher than pre-industrial levels. The talks are key to pushing countries to be more ambitious in the measures they are taking to prevent that from happening. Developing countries are also asking where the $100-billion a year is that they were promised by rich countries to adapt to climate change.

But success at COP26 is now up against the reality of how the UK and its peers have treated the rest of the world. The latest chapter is Covid-19. Wealthy countries raced to lock down as many vaccines as possible. Despite having money on the table, African countries and their peers were locked out and people are dying as a result. Those purposefully excluded countries are angry.

Covid-19 has shown that when a crisis unfolds, selfishness prevails. It is particularly significant because climate negotiations, like COP26, are based on every country working together to tackle the most complicated challenge in human history.

Britain has kept a swathe of African countries on its Covid “red list”, forcing expensive and time-consuming quarantines — even if delegates are vaccinated, seeing as the UK does not recognise a vaccination if it was administered in an African country.

But The Guardian then reported that “destinations including Brazil, Mexico and South Africa are expected to be moved off the red list on Thursday”.

This week, South Africa’s chief diplomatic spokesperson floated the idea on Twitter of affected countries rejecting this unequal treatment and not going to the negotiations. South Africa is a key bridge in climate negotiations and a driver of the continent’s climate diplomacy. 

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here