Covid restrictions could hamper Cop26 delegates and observers | The Secret Negotiator
Cop26 will be a “conference of the parties” like no other, because it’s a year like no other. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way Cop26 operates, and this has many disturbing implications.
Cop26 should have taken place in November 2020, but the decision was taken in May 2020 to delay it for a year, because of the Covid. However, the extra time did not mean that the negotiations advanced further. The negotiators were unable to meet in person, which was difficult. We had online discussions and preparatory meetings, but these were very different from the formal negotiations that would normally have taken place to set the stage for Cop26.
The UK has taken on a great task which has been made even greater by Covid. Much of this year has been spent by countries fighting Covid, and the climate crisis has been put on the back burner to some extent. The focus has been on restarting the global economy, but the climate emergency is getting worse.
Even in a normal year, Cop is often a process of procrastination and willful inaction, which can be frustrating. But usually there is an intersessional negotiation meeting where we have a draft text to work on. This year, because of Covid, this drafting process has been undisciplined. It has practically happened to some extent, but it is not the same.
Negotiations when you are not face to face are not real negotiations. The meetings that have taken place this year have therefore been unsatisfactory. There will be a lot to catch up on in Glasgow when we finally meet in person, and we won’t have much time, which is worrying.
Some countries will have great difficulty attending the Cop. The UK has made vaccines available, but people from Red List countries will still need to be quarantined even if they are vaccinated. The UK has said it will pay for the quarantine of delegates, but details of how it works are unclear. I am concerned that we are seeing fewer delegates from some of the most affected developing countries.
I am also deeply concerned about what will happen to observers and NGOs, not just negotiators. Observers and NGOs play a very important role at the Cop, creating pressure and a sense of urgency. Negotiators need to know that this is the outside public, that people around the world want action.
Many observers and NGOs tell me they fear that they will not be able to participate as much this year, because of the Covid: the restrictions, the additional cost, etc. The UK is taking action, but I am not sure it will be enough to allow the participation we need.