A third of small Pacific island states and territories do not plan to send government figures to the Cop26 summit in Glasgow due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The lack of high-level representation of Pacific nations at the meeting has sparked fears that the concerns of these countries, which are among those most at risk from the climate crisis, will not be adequately represented at the summit.
At a meeting of Pacific regional organizations last week, it was confirmed that 13 of the Pacific Small Island Developing States plan to send a leader or minister to COP26 and seven do not, and instead intend to send representatives. from his missions in New York, Brussels. , or other cities, although sources present at the meeting say the number could change in the coming weeks.
“It is a big problem for the Pacific, the fact that we will not be able to be there in person as we would like,” said Ralph Regenvanu, leader of the Vanuatu opposition. “If we go back to Paris [Cop21]It was the personal presence of the Pacific leaders that really made a change and brought us to the one point five degree figure that we now have in the agreement.
“I know, for example, that Vanuatu will not send anyone in person [this year]. Other countries are sending much smaller delegations … and I think that will significantly reduce our ability to influence the results of that Cop … which is what we have done in the past. “
The smaller numbers are largely due to Covid travel restrictions. Most of the Pacific countries have remained free of Covid or have had a very low number of cases during the pandemic, due to the closure of their borders to international travel.
As a result, traveling from these Pacific countries to the Glasgow summit would require leaders to complete up to a month of administered quarantine.
“We are really fighting for a high-level delegation to go to the Police,” said Albon Ishoda, Marshall Islands Ambassador to Fiji and the Pacific Islands.
“The head of the country … was always expected to attend these meetings and we cannot keep the president unwell for long,” he said.
Anyone returning to the Marshall Islands, a low-lying atoll nation in the North Pacific, which has recorded only four Covid-19 cases and no deaths during the pandemic, must complete two weeks of administered quarantine in Honolulu and then another two weeks in the Marshall Islands.
Ishoda says the difficulties for Pacific leaders to get to the Cop should motivate other world leaders to make sure they don’t waste the opportunity the summit provides.
“They have to recognize that … we’re crossing huge oceans and climbing mountains to get there, so, you know, don’t waste time saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to take this to another cop.’
The impact of travel restrictions will have an even more dramatic effect on the number of Pacific civil society representatives who will be able to attend.
Lavetanalagi Seru, Fijian leader of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN), said Cop26 had proven “almost impossible to attend” for activists and activists.
Challenges include strict quarantine rules when returning to Pacific countries, which must be paid for by delegates and mean that many delegates have to take a month off; flights that cost up to twice their pre-pandemic prices; the high costs of accommodation in Scotland and the fear of returning Covid-19 to vulnerable communities.
“It’s going to be really very small,” Seru said, estimating that there will be 20 to 30 civil society delegates from the Pacific this year, compared to 70 to 80 in normal years.
Seru says that representatives of civil society have traditionally played an important role in COP summits.
“It keeps this rate of pressure on the government … we analyze any result with a very digestible approach and communicate it to the people in the Pacific, so that we can keep the pressure on the governments of the Pacific, also on Australia, New Zealand, the U.S.
“We are also there to support the small island developing states of the Pacific, where we have smaller delegations, leaders cannot be in all rooms at once, so this is where civil society steps in and covers some of the the meetings”.
Seru estimates that the costs to get to Glasgow will be around FJD 20,000 (£ 7,000), in a country where the starting salary for a government employee is FJD 12,000 (£ 4,200) a year. He has been able to attend because NGOs such as Greenpeace, Oxfam and the Climate Justice Resilience Fund have supported his organization.
Alisi Rabukawaqa is a Pacific Climate Warrior and a member of the Council of Elders in Fiji. She has attended Cop Summits in the past, but will not be attending this year.
“The bottom line is really time and money,” he said. “For me, I do this on a voluntary basis, it is not part of my 8-5 job. There is absolutely no organization that allows staff to have that much free time. “
Rabukawaqa says that while it is “crucial” for leaders and activists from the Pacific to attend Cop, “I think so far I can count on one hand how many people I know personally who will attend.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism