The UK is still planning to host the upcoming global climate summit, known as Cop26, in person in November – amid rising concerns about how a conference typically involving 30,000 people will be able to go ahead safely in just six months’ time.
In a speech made from the host city Glasgow on Friday morning, Cop26 president-designate Alok Sharma said it was “vital” that the event take place “face-to-face” to ensure that countries are able to properly negotiate the best way to get rapidly rising temperatures under control.
Speaking on the site of an onshore wind farm, Mr Sharma said: “I have always championed the need for a physical Cop.
“The desire for one is what I have been hearing loud and clear from governments and communities around the world. So we are planning for a physical summit... where ensuring the safety of delegates and the local community will be paramount.”
UN climate summits are typically held every year and involve 30,000 people from across the world. Cop26 – a key moment in the world’s battle to tackle the climate crisis – was originally scheduled for 2020 but postponed as a result of the pandemic.
The UK is facing increasing pressure to set out plans for how the conference can be held safely this year – and to confirm whether all delegates will be able to attend.
Campaigners have raised concerns that the uneven rollout of vaccines around the world may prevent developing countries from being able to take part in the talks. In April, the young climate activist Greta Thunberg called for the event to be postponed again to ensure that all countries could take part.
In response to these concerns, it has been suggested that the UK is considering the possibility of a special vaccination programme to ensure delegates from across the world can attend in person.
However, in a press briefing held on Friday, Mr Sharma refused to confirm whether all delegates would be offered vaccines and instead said that they would make up a wider part of “Covid-19 safety measures”.
He told reporters: “We are planning a physical event and working our way through, right now, what that means in terms of all the Covid-secure measures that have to be put in place. One of the considerations is around vaccines.
“I can’t at this stage offer you any further detail because, frankly, we’re still working our way through this.”
In response to a question from The Independent, the government’s Cop26 team also refused to say how many of the expected 30,000 delegates would be able to attend the event.
Any decision to scale down the number of attendees would need to be approved by the Bureau of the Cop, a UN body made up of 11 different countries. This group is due to gather for a three-week meeting next month.