By Victor Jack
COUNTRIES on the frontline of climate change worry their influence at COP26 will be diluted by exclusion from key agenda-setting meetings and prohibitive logistical challenges limiting their attendance in Glasgow.
Skyrocketing costs, convoluted travel rules, and absence of accommodation may also compromise their ability negotiate effectively, said top officials from Haiti, South Sudan and the Bahamas.
More than 120 world leaders are set to travel to Glasgow, Scotland for the international climate conference from October 31 to November 12.
Haiti had to halve its delegation to ten people due to slow visa processing, forcing it to reallocate resources and sap attention from to a parallel event the country is hosting to encourage partnerships around climate adaptation in the country.
“We are a bit frustrated because we won’t have the visas in time,” said Raoul Vital, Director of the National Observatory of the Environmental Quality and Vulnerabilities at Haiti’s Environment Ministry.
“With a reduced delegation we will not be able to follow all the themes – it will have consequences on our participation in conferences.”
Under the complicated travel rules to reach Glasgow, delegates first needed to travel to the Dominican Republic to apply for travel visas and then wait 15 days for processing by the UK.
“This is serious in that if we do not have enough of an opportunity to hold our adaptation event around partnerships, it will influence the measures we can put in place in the country,” he said.
The Caribbean nation’s delegates also face a five day quarantine once they arrive in the UK, as the country remains on the UK’s travel ‘red list’ until Monday at 4am.
Haiti was among the top three countries most affected by climate change from 1999 to 2018, according to the Climate Risk Index 2021, a ranking published by the independent thinktank Germanwatch which looks at factors including number of deaths and losses per unit of GDP caused by extreme weather events.
Severe storms, heavy rainfall and serious storm surge regularly affect the island nation, made worse by some of the most severe deforestation in the world.
Costs have also surged compared to COP25 in 2019.
Both Haiti and South Sudan are paying upwards of US$200,000 for the two weeks, 35 to 40 per cent higher than last time for Haiti and an increase of more than 100 per cent for South Sudan.
The east African country was also left out of multiple high-level events in the run-up to COP26, leaving it voiceless in meetings which help formalise the conference’s agenda, according to the country’s Deputy Director for Climate Change in the country, Payai John.
He said South Sudan was not invited to the ‘Pre-COP’ co-hosted by Italy, which brings together energy and climate ministers. The meeting was a ‘opportunity for ministers to shape the negotiations in detail ahead of the meeting in Glasgow’, according to the official COP26 website.
Only two nations in the Least Developed Countries Group on Climate Change – an organisation representing 46 low-income nations on climate action – were invited, according to John.
South Sudan was also excluded from a meeting of 50 Ministers in July which produced a report that helps finalise certain negotiation positions on topics including adaptation, climate finance and completing the Paris Agreement rulebook.
“We were wondering why we were not invited. The Ministerial meeting was not inclusive, the pre-COP was not inclusive,” said John. “Most of the decisions that were made there not based on the interest of the parties but based on the interests of individual countries.”
“Whatever items come out from those decisions, we might not accept them.”
From their delegation of 32, five are still waiting for their visas to be processed, including South Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Agriculture.
John said their absence will mean missing planned bilateral meetings with their UK counterparts in addition to COP-26 events.
South Sudan has faced continuous severe floods which began in June 2020 and created 200,000 internal refugees. More than 400,000 remain cut off from the mainland, and are forced to rely on boats to bring them food, said John.
For the Bahamas, the lack of accommodation may weaken the nation’s ability to maximise time in negotiations. The delegation will be scattered across Edinburgh, Stirling and farther away as they could not find anywhere to live in Glasgow.
Rochelle Newbold, Director of the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection at the Bahamas’ Environment Ministry, worries this may hinder negotiations which can start early and last late into the night if delegates are an hour or more away.
“We better carry a tent and a sleeping bag because we might have to sleep on the grounds of the conference,” she said.
And while the UK has made decisive efforts to be transparent and consult the Bahamas in advance of the conference, Bahamas’ Minister of Environment Vaughn Miller emphasised action now needs to follow.
He said: “We want just more than just meetings, we want more than good communications and we want more than promises.”
“We need this assistance from every level. We need those countries that really are really the cause of most of this, if not all of this, to act as responsible nations.”
But Newbold holds out hope the conference will be worth the challenges and lead to results given the climate pressures her country faces, with the Bahamas still reeling from the effects Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
“Two years later, our people are still traumatised,” she said. “Water washing through your house, having families ripped apart physically as they sought to hold each other together – that’s stuff that burned into the heart and lives of individuals.”
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