/ 7 September 2021

SA delegates to quarantine in Glasgow amid calls for COP26 postponement

Sand Artwork Highlights Climate Change Ahead Of Cop26
The stage has been set for one of the most anticipated climate conferences to address global warming – and targets for the biggest emitters . (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

South Africa’s climate conference delegates, media and civil society groups will have to undergo Covid-19 quarantine for five to 10 days in Glasgow ahead of the 2021 UN climate change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in early November. 

According to UK media reports, Westminster announced on Tuesday that it would pay for delegates from red-list countries to quarantine. This coincided with calls for another postponement of the conference from one of the world’s largest climate watchdogs, the Climate Action Network (CAN). 

Registered and eligible attendees are expected to receive  their UK-sponsored Covid-19 jabs this week, but CAN said this was too late. It said “vaccine apartheid”, including by the UK, was to blame for the fact that only 2% of people in Africa had been vaccinated to date, compared with a rate of more than 70% in the COP26 host country.

The red-list rules include quarantining for five days on arrival for vaccinated delegates, and 10 days for unvaccinated delegates. Last week the department of international relations and co-operation said it was consulting with the UK to remove South Africa from the list of barred travellers.

“Vaccine inequity, unaffordable accommodation, travel challenges and new surges in the Covid-19 pandemic will lock out huge numbers of developing country delegates from the UN climate talks set to take place in November,” CAN said.

The network of climate groups represents about 1 500 civil society organisations in more than 130 countries and is led by South African activist Tasneem Essop

​​”Our concern is that those countries most deeply affected by the climate crisis and those countries suffering from the lack of support by rich nations in providing vaccines will be left out of the talks and be conspicuous by their absence at COP26,” Essop said.

“There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the UN climate talks, between rich and poor nations, and this is now compounded by the health crisis.

“Looking at the current timeline for COP26, it is difficult to imagine there can be fair participation from the Global South under safe conditions and it should, therefore, be postponed,” Essop added.

With just two months to go before the conference, CAN said it was evident that a safe, inclusive and just global climate meeting would be impossible “given the failure to support the access to vaccines to millions of people in poor countries, the rising costs of travel and accommodation, and the uncertainty in the course of the Covid19 pandemic”.

It said the red list would de facto exclude government representatives, civil society campaigners and journalists, particularly from Global South countries.

COP26 president Alok Sharma has emphasised the need for in-person talks after the postponement of the conference in 2020, and all systems seem to be going ahead to receive delegations. 

Environmental group Greenpeace said the COP presidency had failed to guarantee the safe and equitable participation of COP26 delegates, “especially people coming from countries that are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and the climate crisis”.

The organisation is supporting calls for a postponement, while emphasising that climate action does not rely on the UN climate talks alone.

“Regardless of whether the COP goes ahead, ambitious action on climate is urgently needed. It shouldn’t hinge on one meeting and we plan to use the UN General Assembly and the G20 to hold governments to account for their inadequate action on the climate crisis,” Greenpeace said.

“Expecting already disadvantaged people to attend without access to vaccines, healthcare, and financial support to overcome the risks of participation, is not only unfair but prohibitive.”

Tunicia Phillips is an Adamela Trust economic justice reporting fellow sponsored by the Open Society Foundation.