Why are activists calling for Cop26 to be cancelled?

Environmental campaigners Greta Thunberg, Climate Action Network and Greenpeace all express scepticism about aspects of upcoming conservation conference

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 27 October 2021 08:30 BST

Why Cop26 might change our world

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Cop26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, which runs in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November, is billed as a crucial moment for the global fightback against global warming.

Boris Johnson hyped the summit by calling it “a turning point for the world” during his speech to the UN General Assembly in New York last month, while Prince Charles told the BBC that humanity is drinking in the “last-chance saloon” when it comes to curbing carbon emissions, halting the global temperature increase and averting catastrophe.

But Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who sensationally became the face of the international conservation movement through her Fridays for Future school strikes, has poured scorn on the conference’s prospects of realising meaningful change through cooperation between world governments.

Asked whether she was in optimistic mood ahead of Cop26 during a recent interview with The Guardian, Ms Thunberg answered: “I am not. Nothing has changed from previous years really. The leaders will say we’ll do this and we’ll do this, and we will put our forces together and achieve this, and then they will do nothing. Maybe some symbolic things and creative accounting and things that don’t really have a big impact. We can have as many Cops as we want, but nothing real will come out of it.”

She was equally withering about Mr Johnson given his current cheerleading for green issues coincides with support for new coal mines in Cumbria and the Cambo oil fields off Shetland.

“It’s hypocritical to talk about saving the climate as long as you’re still expanding fossil fuel infrastructure,” she said, adding that the British PM was no better or worse than any other world leader, all of whom she takes a dim view of. “Nobody has surprised me.”

Ms Thunberg followed those remarks with an appearance at a youth climate summit in Milan, Italy, at which she further ridiculed Mr Johnson with a derisive imitation of his current favourite slogan: “Build Back Better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net-zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah.”

But her criticism is not the only negativity Cop26 has attracted ahead of its opening after a one-year delay necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In September, a number of environmental groups called for the conference’s cancellation on the grounds that it will not be inclusive, arguing that coronavirus vaccine inequality around the world and expensive quarantine hotels in Glasgow will prevent “huge numbers” of delegates from the Southern Hemisphere from being able to attend.

Vaccinated delegates arriving from countries currently on the UK’s red list for travel are expected to quarantine for five days while the unvaccinated must stay in isolation for 10 days.

“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 conspicuous in their absence at Cop26,” commented Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network (CAN), a collective representing more than 1,500 civil society groups from 130 countries.

“There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the UN climate talks and this is now compounded by the health crisis.”

Greenpeace has also raised similar objections.

“If the UK government wants this Cop to be representative and transparent it must, at the very least, ensure that vaccines can be accessed and given sufficiently in advance to all delegates and provide financial support to cover the cost of hotel quarantine,” said Juan Pablo Osornio, senior political lead at Greenpeace International.

In a bid to ensure the success of Cop26, the UK government responded to those concerns by offering to pay for the quarantine hotel stays of red list arrivals and making first dose vaccines available to attendees who still need them.

“Ensuring that the voices of those most affected by climate change are heard is a priority for the Cop26 presidency,” Alok Sharma, Cop26 president, said in a statement.

“This includes an offer from the UK government to fund the required quarantine hotel stays for registered delegates arriving from red list areas and to vaccinate accredited delegates who would be unable otherwise to get vaccinated.”

However, the stance taken by CAN and Greenpeace was vociferously opposed by the 45 countries who make up the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), who issued a statement insisting the summit must go ahead as planned to protect their interests.

“The Cop is for the nations, for the vulnerable nations. We need emission cuts,” CVF ambassador Mohamed Nasheed, the speaker of the Maldives parliament, told Politico. “We need adaptation pledges, funding. We need both. And we do not want a situation where this conversation is delayed. It’s already delayed for too long. It’s an emergency.

“There was no conversation, we were not told at all. And it’s very difficult to see how they can advocate for us without talking to us.”

Ms Essop responded to CVF by saying CAN had not consulted with any officials from individual nations because it was “not a mouthpiece for governments, whatever bloc they are a part of… Right now it is civil society and of course, from the poorest and most vulnerable countries, facing most exclusion from this process… This statement from CAN is a stand based on our principles”.

Even Mr Sharma appears to have entertained doubts about Cop26, making a point of warning world leaders in Paris on 12 October: “Cop26 is not a photo op or a talking shop.”

“It must be the forum where we put the world on track to deliver on climate,” he said. “And that is down to leaders. It is leaders who made a promise to the world in this great city six years ago. And it is leaders that must honour it.

“Responsibility rests with each and every country. And we must all play our part. Because on climate, the world will succeed, or fail, as one.”

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