The United States has said it “fully supports” the aim of holding in-person, global climate talks this November in the UK but cautioned that the event must be safe and equitable.
Earlier this week an international network of 1,500 climate groups called on the United Nations and British government to postpone the Cop26 summit in Glasgow over fears that poorer nations will be shut out. Climate Action Network cited the failure to provide vaccines for millions of people in the Global South, rising costs of travel and accommodation, and ongoing uncertainty over Covid.
Anticipation is mounting ahead of Cop26, viewed as a crucial moment for the world to come together and agree on making deep – and long overdue – emissions cuts amid an ever-worsening global climate crisis.
UK climate minister and Cop26 president, Alok Sharma, has insisted that the conference “must go ahead” this November.
“We are working tirelessly with all our partners, including the Scottish government and the UN, to ensure an inclusive, accessible and safe summit in Glasgow with a comprehensive set of Covid mitigation measures,” Mr Sharma said.
On Thursday, the US government made a robust statement in support of in-person talks – with the proviso that all nations are able to take part without additional burdens.
A State Department spokesperson told The Independent: “We must make this year’s COP26 in Glasgow, United Kingdom a pivotal moment for the world to come together to meet the climate challenge. We fully support the aim of an in-person COP, provided it can be done safely and equitably.
“Glasgow’s success hinges on all countries being able to participate without undue sacrifice or risk. We look forward to joining all countries in a safe, inclusive COP.”
Since President Joe Biden took office, the US administration has made a U-turn in its attitude to the climate crisis. The country rejoined the Paris Agreement – after former President Trump pulled out of the deal – and Mr Biden has pledged more dramatic, domestic emissions cuts while ramping up clean energy capacity.
Mr Biden has installed former secretary of state John Kerry, who led the US delegation during Paris negotiations, as his presidential climate envoy. Mr Kerry has spent much of the past year encouraging other nations to boost their climate ambitions.
The two-week summit in Glasgow was originally scheduled for November 2020 but delayed to 2021 because of the Covid pandemic.
The UK government has insisted that it is rolling out vaccines for foreign delegates – including campaign groups, members of the media and government officials – and will fund quarantine hotels for those unable to pay as part of efforts to ensure Cop26 can go ahead in a matter of weeks.
But the Climate Action Network (CAN) – made up of civil society groups in more than 130 countries – warns that delegates, campaigners and journalists from developing countries, many of which are on the UK’s restrictive “Red list” for travel, could be excluded.
CAN says that being shut out of Cop26 talks will have serious implications on matters like climate finance – the fraught topic of how to provide funding for poorer nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis to help them mitigate and adapt to extreme events.
“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 and be conspicuous by their absence at Cop26,” said Tasneem Essop, CAN’s executive director.
“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.”