African negotiators say crucial climate talks will be a failure if held virtually

The group of African delegates negotiating on behalf of the continent at the United Nations climate talks believe the Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be a dismal failure if it is held virtually. 

Incoming COP26 president Alok Sharma has previously emphasised the need for an in-person meeting when countries gather to discuss critical issues on climate change. In his last media address, Sharma aso committed to developing a plan to vaccinate delegates who otherwise would not have access.

Most African nations are being hit by a third wave of Covid-19 infections and the vaccine roll-out is showing little signs of improvement. Less than 1% of Africa’s population has been vaccinated. 

The pre-talk sessions, which were held virtually for the first time in June, were riddled with technical glitches. The African group of negotiators (AGN) gathered at a hub in Sharma El Sheikh in Egypt to join the talks collectively. But delegates said that it was clear that virtual negotiations were off the table at the most important talks scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland.

The African group of negotiators was established at COP1 in Berlin, Germany, in 1995 as an alliance of African member states that represents the interests of the region in the international climate change negotiations to speak a common and unified voice.

During an online discussion on Africa’s position on virtually held talks on Friday, Mithika Mwenda, of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), said that non-verbal communication was a critical part of the negotiations at COP where talks are not always easy. “COP is hard enough as it is in person,” he said.

“Those participating in UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] meetings have complained about the disadvantages that we experience as Africans,” he said. 

Kenyan environmental activist Wanjira Mathai, who is regional director at the World Resources Institute, believes Africa is in a difficult situation because of vaccine inequality and inequity. 

“There will be no compromise on an inclusive and equitable COP,” she said. 

The UN’s climate talks tend to get more tense as talks near the end and the 2019 COP25 in Spain were no different. The final day’s marathon talks lasted 48 hours and developing and poorer countries were left disappointed at the outcome. 

Now, the African group wants quantitative commitments to the various finance mechanisms that rich countries have promised to contribute to.

Augustine Njamnishi, of the PACJA, said that financial commitments from wealthy developed nations were all qualitative. “There are some climate justice concerns about virtual meetings,” he added. 

The PACJA is a continental coalition of more than 1 000 civil society organisations in 48 countries advocating for climate policies and laws that are fair and just to Africa. 

The meeting ended with more questions than answers, with some guests calling on the African group of negotiators to withdraw from COP if their demands for inclusion are not met. 

The group is expected to send a formal notice to the UNFCCC to raise their concerns.

What is on the line?

A lot is at stake. The COP26 was postponed last year because of the global pandemic, leaving important milestones in limbo. 

Rich countries, who are the most responsible for the climate crisis, have previously 

committed to raise $100-billion a year to support less developed countries. These commitments are already due for renewal. Information on meeting the $100-billion goal is set to be released in 2022.

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Tunicia Phillips
Tunicia Phillips is an investigative, award-winning journalist who has worked in broadcast for 10 years. Her beats span across crime, court politics, mining energy and social justice. She has recently returned to print at the M&G working under the Adamela Trust to specialise in climate change and environmental reporting.

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