Climate activist Lavetanalagi Seru has observed an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the UK ahead of the UN climate conference which begins on Sunday, and it scares him – even though he has been vaccinated and is only 29 years old.
But the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network activist is determined to travel from his home in Fiji to Scotland to draw attention to the plight of island nations hit by climate change.
“It’s a scary time to travel,” he told The Associated Press. “But I’m putting my health on the line to make sure the Pacific island states are heard.”
Despite concerns from some delegates around the world, the UK government decided to host an in-person conference, arguing that world leaders must act now to prevent catastrophic global warming – and that they will be more effective if they can. talk face to face. -to deal with. The meeting was originally scheduled to take place last year but was postponed due to the pandemic.
The government insists it can now be done safely – and said it has worked “tirelessly” to ensure an inclusive, accessible and safe summit in Glasgow “with a comprehensive package of climate mitigation measures. COVID “.
“COP26 has already been postponed for a year,” Alok Sharma, the president-designate of the conference known as COP26, said last month. “And we are all too aware that climate change has not taken a leave of absence. ”
But a coalition of environmental and community groups called in September to postpone the conference, fearing that many of those most affected by global warming could not attend due to the lingering threat of COVID-19. Those fears have been exacerbated by a rise in infections across the UK, where the daily average of new confirmed cases has jumped by more than 50% since mid-September.
Activists also complain that the organizers still have not done enough to ensure wide participation. Papers outlining the documents needed to attend arrived late for some who had to travel long distances and at great expense, among other issues.
The inability to cut red tape has made it difficult for civil society activists to obtain the visas they need to travel. Seru, for example, is still waiting for his.
Additionally, although delegates were promised vaccines, campaigners argued the rollout was too slow – highlighting broader issues of vaccine inequality which they blame largely on wealthy countries. , including the United States, Britain and the European Union, which have stockpiled vaccines for their own citizens.
“As one of the millions of unvaccinated Africans, the thought of traveling to Scotland, where cases have recently increased, is frightening,” wrote Mohamed Adow, director of the climate and climate think tank. Energy Power Shift Africa, September 14 in a notice. room for the Guardian. “What’s frustrating is that it didn’t have to be that way. “
He accused rich countries of hoarding vaccines and blamed their inability to give up some intellectual property rights to the shootings that could allow more countries, especially poorer ones, to produce doses of COVID-19.
While some nongovernmental organizations have called the waivers vital and the United States embraced the idea, some experts doubt that waivers for very complex plans would boost production. But many agree that richer countries have failed to keep their promises to widely share vaccines, even though they approve booster shots for their own citizens.
The next meeting in Scotland comes after an international panel of climatologists issued a stern warning to world leaders in August, saying time is running out to meet the target of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) and avoid a catastrophic climate. cash. COP26 is seen as a critical moment in the drive to persuade governments, industry and investors around the world to make ambitious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Waiting another year may delay action past the point of no return, said Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environment Research at the London School of Economics. Being in the same room is important for making a deal.
“Despite the risks of being together in Glasgow, it is justified given the dangerousness of the situation in which we find ourselves in the face of climate change,” he said. “If we’re wrong about climate change, it’s not just the negotiators who will be in trouble, it will be all of us. The whole world – our children, our grandchildren, future generations. It is so terrible.
Gurch Randhawa, professor of diversity and public health at the University of Bedfordshire, said the conference – like any other meeting – can be held safely as long as COVID-19 security measures such as social distancing, a proper ventilation and masks are used. But these rules must apply to everyone, unlike the UK House of Commons where staff and journalists are required to wear masks, but lawmakers are not, he said.
The conference could in fact provide world leaders with an opportunity to demonstrate the need to control the virus through continued security measures, Randhawa said.
“It’s a great idea if there are public safeguards in place and we are using it as an opportunity to show global leadership to the watching public,” he said. “If we are not going to put in place measures to protect the public, it is a very bad idea because it will not only be a COVID risk for people who attend, but it also means that the general public watching will potentially lose confidence in the public protection measures that are in place in most countries of the world.
Meanwhile, Seru is still hoping that his much-promised visa will arrive soon. He has already missed a very expensive flight, but he will take another. He might be late, but he’s determined to make it happen.
“For the Pacific, it’s a matter of life and death,” he said. “This is why we are fighting so hard. “