Via our NC Interfaith Power & Light campaign, the NC Council of Churches is a part of the US Climate Action Network, a vital network of nearly 200 climate organizations across the United States, we joined Climate Action Network International in calling for the postponement of the 2021 in-person United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) and for the world’s wealthiest countries to take immediate action to address inequities in global access to Covid-19 vaccines, in solidarity with Climate Action Network International. At the same time, we call on richer countries to move forward with urgency on their domestic climate commitments–including ambitious emission reduction policies and the delivery of international climate finance–regardless of the status of the COP. The climate crisis cannot wait.
Rich countries have had months to distribute vaccines equitably across the globe to create conditions that would allow for safe travel and large gatherings. However, they have failed to do so, by continuing to allow pharma companies to profit from vaccine inequity. Rich countries can change this today by providing the tools to manufacture and produce the vaccines, testing and treatment at the scale needed to end the pandemic. This includes advancing the World Trade Organization Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (WTO TRIPS) waiver which is supported by over 100 countries, contributing adequate vaccines to the COVAX Facility, and sharing the technological know-how through the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (CTAP).
The current safety protocols set by the UK government for COP mirror global inequities, such as the unfair quarantine rules, that make it prohibitively expensive for delegates to attend, especially from the Global South. “The quarantine process is not fair. Red list countries have to quarantine whether or not they have been vaccinated while unvaccinated individuals from countries like the US where Covid transmission is high does not require any quarantine,” states Natalie Lucas, Executive Director of Care About Climate. She continues, “With the present logistical and financial barriers, an in-person COP26 will be a COP of the Global North.”
This call also comes at a time when infection rates of COVID-19 are increasing worldwide. There is little clarity about the safety protocols from the UK about how the COP will proceed. Delegates to the Conference have not received the vaccines promised by the UK and the window for delegates to arrive fully vaccinated is closing. USCAN joins our international colleagues in determining that at this point it will not be possible to offer a safe, inclusive and equitable COP. Moreover, USCAN does not support a virtual COP at this time as there are serious inequities relating to internet access that have not been addressed. The ability to hold a safe and inclusive in-person COP26 in the future requires urgent action to enable poorer countries to access adequate and timely Covid-19 vaccines, testing and treatment.
This summer the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report indicating that we are in “code red for humanity.” The call from US and international groups to postpone COP26 is not a call to postpone climate action. In fact, it is a call to do more.
“Covid-19 and climate change are both crises that disproportionately impact already vulnerable communities, especially in poorer countries. Rich countries like the US need to step up and ensure developing countries have access to adequate Covid-19 vaccine supplies. At the same time, with the climate crisis raging on, the US needs to immediately reduce our emissions and provide the finance and technology needed for developing countries to do the same. We must do our fair share for the global community to ensure that people and the planet can survive and thrive,” notes Brandon Wu from ActionAid USA.
Rachel Cleetus from Union of Concerned Scientists notes, “It is clear that the international climate talks, if they proceed as currently planned, cannot meet science-based public health guidelines in an equitable way. We are calling on richer nations to take swift action to address the gross global COVID-19 vaccine inequity and limit the power of major pharmaceutical companies to control vaccine access. The rapidly worsening climate crisis is also intersecting with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, compounding harms for the most vulnerable. Policymakers must meet this moment with bold, just and equitable public health, economic and climate policies.”
The UK government has indicated that they are moving forward with the conference and are starting to send out vaccination doses now. However, US groups have heard from their international partners that this is too little too late as the vaccination window closes.