The UK government is considering how to use Covid-19 vaccines and testing to try to ensure vital UN climate talks this year go ahead in person, rather than as an online event.
Alok Sharma, a former UK business secretary and now president-designate of Cop26, the climate summit to be held in Glasgow this November, said: “I have always been very clear that this should be the most inclusive Cop ever. I have been travelling around the world and it is very clear to me that people want to see a physical Cop, in particular developing countries want this to be face to face.”
Sharma is working with health experts, the Scottish government and other officials on the best way to ensure the two-week conference, which 30,000 people were originally expected to attend, can go ahead.
This would include using vaccines and testing for Covid-19, Sharma said in a speech at the Whitelee windfarm near Glasgow on Friday morning. However, he said he could not yet go into detail on what would be involved.
“We have to ensure the safety of delegates, and the people of Glasgow,” he said. “We are working with health authorities, looking at Covid-19 measures, and part of that is vaccination.”
There has been speculation that Cop26 could be changed to a virtual event, like last year’s UN general assembly, and the White House climate summit held by Joe Biden last month. The Guardian understands that some within government have argued a virtual Cop could be safer and less susceptible to last-minute changes or even potential cancellation if the Covid-19 pandemic worsens this autumn.
Cop26 – which stands for conference of the parties, under the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – has already been postponed once, from its original date of November 2020. The summit is the most important since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015, as countries will be asked to come forward with stringent plans on greenhouse gas emissions for the next decade, which will be crucial to ensuring global temperatures do not rise more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the key aspirational goal of the Paris accord.
Sharma said Cop26 would be “the last hope of keeping 1.5C alive”, and called for the urgent phase-out of coal as essential to meeting that goal.
However, current pledges on emissions by many countries have fallen short of what is needed. Representatives from many developing countries have spoken of concerns that an online Cop would fail to produce the pressure on countries needed to make them strengthen their goals.
They are also worried that developing countries would be less able to take part in a virtual conference, and that the negotiations would be unfair.