By Chiara Fiorino
After a two-year delay, the 26th Conference of the Parties, COP26, finally started on 31 October 2021 in Glasgow (UK). Despite the UK government describing the event as the “most inclusive COP ever” , Scottish climate campaigners have called it the “most exclusionary ever” .
Limited Access Due To COVID-19 Vaccines
The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced only eight weeks before the start of COP26 that the UK would provide COVID-19 vaccines to COP delegates . However, on 1 September 2021, it was alleged that “no vaccines had been delivered by the UK government”, leaving thousands of climate campaigners confused – especially those in Global South countries, where vaccine availability has been especially limited . In response to the criticism, COP26 organisers claimed that the UK was ‘on-track’ to double-vaccinate attendees in time for the summit . Yet climate campaigners from Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, and Nicaragua spoke to Climate Home News at the time, conveying their concerns that they would not be fully vaccinated in time for COP26 .
To prevent the vaccine rollout failure prohibiting many people from attending, the UK changed its travel restrictions and recognized all vaccines from around the world were suitable as a means of attending COP26 . However, this measure is not equivalent to ensuring equal participation in the conference, which entails far more than just providing vaccines.
Attendance by Small Island Developing State Delegates
Almost 40,000 delegates registered for COP26, but it is not expected that this many delegates attended the conference in Glasgow .
In particular, the majority of the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) have not been able to send any representatives to Glasgow, despite being among the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change . For example Hurricane Pam in 2015 and Cyclone Harold in 2020 devastated the Republic of Vanuatu, in the Pacific Ocean and led to the displacement of hundreds of people . Yet, at COP26 in Glasgow – the most important international summit on climate change – the Vanuatu delegation will not be present.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, around one-third of Pacific small island states were unable to attend or only able to send small delegation teams . The Pacific islands were able to stay COVID-free throughout the pandemic as they closed all their borders and put in place rigorous safety measures . However, to ensure this remains the case, anyone returning to the Pacific islands – in this case, from the UK – is required to complete an entire month of quarantine. As Ralph Regenvanu, a politician from Vanuatu, told The Guardian: “it’s always expected that the head of the country […] would attend these meetings and we cannot have the president be indisposed for a huge amount of time” .
The presence of SIDS is critical as they are experiencing the most dramatic manifestations of the climate crisis. Additionally, we must not forget that back in 2015, it was by virtue of the leaders from the Pacific countries that the 1.5°C goal was included in the Paris Agreement. Therefore, their absence at COP26 risks weakening the summit, since the voices of those most affected by the crisis, often SIDS, would likely have resulted in the demand for, and therefore inclusion of more radical aims.
Surge In Accommodation Prices
Accommodation has presented another major barrier to inclusivity at COP26. During the months prior to the summit, businesses in Glasgow heavily inflated the hotels and Airbnb prices as they knew thousands of people – around 40,000 participants – would stay in Glasgow for the two weeks of COP. Among the most affected by this surge pricing were young people, who rely upon low-cost accommodation (see picture 1). Because they often lack funding from their governments, and because they are rarely included in national delegations, surge pricing and lack of accommodation represented significant barriers for young generations to physically attend COP26. As the decision-making processes happening at COP26 determine the future young people will live in, excluding them from these conversations reveals patterns of intergenerational climate injustice.
Featured Image Courtesy of the UNFCCC Flickr Page
 Climate Home News, 2021, UK rejects campaigners’ calls to postpone COP26 talks again, URL: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2021/09/07/uk-rejects-campaigners-call-postpone-cop26-climate-talks/ (Accessed 6th November 2021).
 The Guardian, 2021, Scottish campaigners condemn COP26 as ‘the most exclusionary ever’, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/09/scottish-campaigners-condemn-cop26-as-the-most-exclusionary-ever-accommodation (Accessed 6th November 2021).
 UNFCCC, 2021, Vaccines FAQ – [Party, Observer and Media Representatives], URL:] https://ukcop26.org/vaccines-faq/ (Accessed 6th November 2021).
 Climate Home News, 2021, Frustration mounts as COP26 delegates wait for the UK’s Covid vaccines, URL: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2021/09/01/frustration-mounts-cop26-delegates-wait-uks-promised-covid-vaccines/ (Accessed 6th November 2021).
 Carbon Brief, 2021, Analysis: Which Countries have sent the most delegates to COP26?, URL: https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-which-countries-have-sent-the-most-delegates-to-cop26 (Accessed 6th November 2021).
 Sky News, 2021, Climate change: UK says it’s ‘on track’ to vaccinate all COP26 delegates ahead of UN talks as inclusivity fears persist, URL:https://news.sky.com/story/climate-change-uk-says-its-on-track-to-vaccinate-all-cop26-delegates-ahead-of-un-talks-as-inclusivity-fears-persist-12397272 (Accessed 6th November 2021).
 Lifegate, 2021, Per gli stati isola del Pacifico, partecipare alla Cop 26 è quasi impossibile, URL: https://www.lifegate.it/stati-isola-pacifico-cop-26 (Accessed 6th November 2021).
 The Guardian, 2021, Third of pacific islands unable to attend COP26, sparking fears summit will be less ambitious, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/21/third-of-pacific-islands-unable-to-attend-cop26-sparking-fears-summit-will-be-less-ambitious (Accessed 6th November 2021).