The eyes of the world are fixed on Glasgow right now, when the long-awaited COP26 climate summit finally begins.
The Scottish city is already packed with more than 30,000 delegates descending to the conference.
Despite the breadth of representation here, with people from different countries, organizations, and charities, there are some notable exceptions. A combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of getting to (and staying in) Glasgow, and other logistical issues mean that key voices risk being left out of the talks here at COP26.
COP President Alok Sharma previously said that “this should be the most inclusive COP in history,” but at the moment that statement does not seem to hold up.
Contributing less, more affected, but disappeared in Glasgow
In the MAPA regions (People and areas most affected), there is a clear lack of promotion. According to Island Innovation, a third of the Pacific islands have announced that they cannot send delegations for the first time in the history of the COP.
These nations, the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), are the least responsible for climate change, but are some of the hardest hit. And their voices are missing here in Glasgow.
Only four Pacific island nations are sending their leaders, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and Palau. The rest have limited or no representation, largely due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The United States, for its part, has sent a delegation of about 1,000 people.
But these low Pacific islands are being seriously threatened by the climate crisis – much more than anywhere in the global North. From rising temperatures to changing weather patterns, there are a multitude of risks. However, the most urgent thing is the rise in sea level, which could leave entire countries submerged.
SIDS were essential in adopting the 1.5 ° C threshold for global warming established at COP21 in Paris in 2015. Their voices were vital in emphasizing the very real and urgent need to mitigate temperature increases as much as possible.
We are already at 1.1C, but this time those voices are not here.
“Our sovereignty and our very survival are at stake,” says Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. This could be the “last chance” to maintain the 1.5 ° C limit.
This sentiment is shared by young people who have also been excluded from participation.
“COP26 is the platform where a global decision on climate change is made,” says the climate activist and Help in Action Youth Ambassador Mini Aktar from Jamalpur, Bangladesh.
“But we are the ones who face the direct impacts of climate change. If we are not part of COP26, it is not possible to make fair and equitable decisions ”.
Haya Alghrair, another ActionAid youth ambassador from Jordan, feels that politicians will not feel enough pressure to implement the necessary changes.
“World leaders know enough about how to tackle climate crises,” says Alghrair.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to implementation, we often don’t see strong commitment and it turns out to be less of a priority than other issues that need to be addressed.
“We want a serious and full commitment to achieve the Paris agreement.”
‘A more inequitable and undemocratic process’
There is a feeling among those excluded from Glasgow that the procedures will be less successful, less radical and less fair without the voices of MAPA.
“I feel like I’ve lost the voice of my community and mine,” says Aqli Farah, an environmentalist and climate educator in Somalia. “We are the most affected by climate change because our community depends on natural resources.”
He believes that knowledge sharing that can only be gained through a physical presence at COP26 is also being lost.
“Information sharing is very important, to gain additional knowledge and even experience from other nations on how to tackle climate change,” adds Farah.
Lidy Nacpil, an activist working on economic, environmental, social and gender justice issues, coordinates the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development. She has sent groups to COPs since the thirteenth summit in Bali.
“This is the first COP we have not attended since 2007,” says Nacpil, “it is very frustrating for us not to be able to attend COP26 in person.”
Based in Manila, Philippines, Nacpil is one of many who will have to watch procedures from thousands of miles away. There is palpable exasperation among the people we have spoken to, especially from the worst affected regions, as the future of their communities and countries is decided without their voices in the room.
“While we have no illusions that climate justice solutions will be forged primarily through negotiations, COPs are very important venues for engaging, challenging and lobbying governments,” Nacpil explains.
“COPs are dominated by wealthy governments and corporate interests, so it is always an intense effort to raise the voices, perspectives and calls of individuals and communities, especially those of the Global South.
“With a very small southern presence at COP26, it will be a more unequal and undemocratic process than ever,” he adds.
Is online access to COP26 the answer?
Despite these setbacks, there is still momentum to make the most of online opportunities to participate in COP26.
“Our partners and allies who will be in Glasgow are certainly doing what they can on the ground to ensure that our messages get through, including the use of digital platforms,” Nacpil says.
“We are also campaigning from our countries, mobilizing and reaching out through the media.”
But it was only recently made clear that online participation is still limited to those who are officially accredited, for which there is a cap on the numbers.
“We gave away our accreditation spaces weeks ago when we realized we couldn’t do it,” adds Nacpil, “so even online access is extremely limited.”
There is a surprise among the people we speak to that a combined model has not been implemented online and in person.
“Considering the severity of the discussions that will take place during the conference, it is interesting that a hybrid event model was not adopted to promote greater participation and engagement,” says Muhammad Malik, CEO and founder of NeuerEnergy, who also has been able to attend.
“Over the last year, event organizers have had to adapt and embrace the virtual world, using available technology to maximize attendance and visibility.”
Malik feels that a combination of online and offline is vital to maintaining momentum at an event as important as COP26.
“That said, it is critical that we strike a balance. The virtual world does not always allow casual encounters with potential collaborators ”, he continues.
“A short chat over coffee can inspire an important stakeholder to accelerate your organization’s journey to zero emissions, so combining physical and virtual strategies to move forward can only be a good thing.”
But Farah stresses that even a hybrid approach would be of limited utility to remote communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.
“It is difficult to access the conference in remote areas due to poor internet connection and lack of social media,” he explains.
In Glasgow, but still excluded from procedures
For those lucky enough to be in Glasgow, however, there are still obstacles.
Alaina Wood, sustainability scientist and environmental communicator, as well as one of the co-founders of EcoTok – is here at COP26. But Wood only has access to the public Green Zone.
You cannot enter the Blue Zone, where most of the networking and action takes place, due to accreditation limitations. Media accreditation was closed more than 20 days earlier than promised, leaving many excluded from the proceedings.
“As a Tennessee scientist, I represent rural areas and the climate challenges they face,” says Wood.
“Most of the time, rural representatives are left out of the Blue Zone, and because of that, a large part of the proposed climate policy is not feasible for rural areas. But I’m also a science communicator, and not being able to get a blue zone pass means my science communication won’t be as accurate as it could be.
“I am still very fortunate to be able to attend COP26 in the Green Zone, but being in the Blue Zone would be much better for me and for the communities I represent.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism