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28th Jan 2023

First days of COP26 summit marked by chaos and 'outrage'

  • The Scottish government fears COP26 could lead to a increase of Covid-19 infections (Photo: Simon Evans Twitter)
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The first four opening days of the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow (COP26) has been marked by heavy weather, travel disruption, large crowds, Covid-19-related restrictions, and long queues outside the conference centre – which have triggered criticism of the organisers of the conference.

As more than 25,000 delegates from almost 200 countries meet for a total of two weeks, large queues have been building up the entrance of the venue - sparking fears about a potential spike in Covid-19 cases.

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Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf admitted earlier this week that the "scale and worldwide draw" of the summit "poses a risk of spread of Covid-19 both within delegates and to or from the local population of Scotland and the UK".

But a COP26 spokesperson told EUobserver on Wednesday (3 November) that the UK presidency was working with the UN "to minimise queues as much as possible".

"Everyone's safety and security at COP26 is of the utmost importance," the official added, pointing out that there are Covid-19 mitigation measures in place, such as ventilation and hygiene measures, facemasks, daily tests, and social distancing.

Entering to the summit took so long on Monday morning that members of delegations from Maldives, Nepal and Russia missed their meetings, BBC reporter Mishal Husain tweeted.

Attendees received an email from the organisers apologising for the inconveniences caused when trying to enter the venue, citing "unprecedented logistical circumstances".

On Wednesday, however, they were told to follow negotiations online as much as possible and attend events in person only when necessary "in order to comply with Covid-19 measures".

Delegates from poorer countries have struggled to attend the event due to the unequal access to vaccines, quarantine rules and high travel costs - which triggered civil society to call for the postponement of the event earlier this year, citing unequal participation.

The UK has, since the beginning, rejected the idea of postponing the event, and instead put forward measures to ensure the participation of developing countries, such as funding the hotel stays of delegates arriving from red-list countries.

Nevertheless, campaigners have slammed the British government for failing to host the "most-inclusive COP ever" - a promise COP26 president Alok Sharma, a British Conservative MP, made earlier this year.

Restricted access

One of the biggest concerns raised during the first days in Glasgow has been the restricted access to negotiating areas for environmental and development organisations.

Sebastien Duyck, senior attorney at the Centre for International Environment Law, said there was "outrage" and "disappointment" among observers because many had travelled to Glasgow despite the economic cost and the health risks to be involved in the negations on the ground.

"We need the voices of those who are directly impacted by climate change to inform the negotiation and to provide public scrutiny," he said, adding that "Covid-related restrictions cannot justify the fact that our entire network cannot access negotiations".

The UK presidency had a total of 24 months to prepare the event, after it was delayed a year due to the pandemic.

Only four representatives of environmental and development NGOs had access to the negotiations, Duyck said, arguing that these first days have marked "the least-inclusive beginning of a COP since over a decade".

'Dystopian Hellscape'

Alexandria Villaseñor, a youth activist from the United States, called the conference a "dystopian Hellscape."

"An exclusionary, racist, ableist, classist environment directly informs the decision making process that is placed in it," she told her thousands of followers on Twitter.

Over the weekend, train disruptions and road closures also made it difficult for delegates to get from London to Scotland.

But criticism has been focussed on reports accusing global leaders of hypocrisy - after travelling from and to Glasglow by private jets, which are considered 20 times more polluting than a commercial flight.

According to the BBC, there have been 182 such flights into Glasgow, Prestwick, and Edinburgh airports since 27 October - which is nearly double the amount of the previous week.

And this figure excludes some national charters, such as US president Joe Biden's Air Force One plane.

After the leaders' meeting on 1 and 2 November, UK prime minister Boris Johnson decided to travel from Glasgow to London by so-called 'air taxi' due to "time constraints". According to Downing Street, the plane uses a special mix of "sustainable" aviation fuel.

Similarly, the plane flying the European Commission's delegation to Glasgow is "powered by biofuels," a spokesperson told EUobserver, while refusing to confirm whether or not it was a private jet.

The European Council and the Parliament have not responded to questions about the use of air taxis to travel to COP26.

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