Visa, finance and accommodation issues have excluded the voices of those most vulnerable to climate change at COP26. (Stop Climate Chaos Scotland/Fiona Hooker)
When 30 year-old Diaka Koroma was offered the opportunity to travel to COP26 as a delegate with Action Aid, she was delighted.
An activist from Sierra Leone, Diaka has spent years defending the rights of women and girls, and hoped to use COP26 to draw attention to the disproportionate impact the climate crisis is having on women in the global south.
Yet three days into the conference her visa still hadn’t arrived.
“If I had my visa I’d go this minute – I haven’t heard from them and it’s past the time we were told to wait”, she told The Big Issue.
“When we call the number they gave us, nobody picks up. There’s an alternative number they gave me which charged me eight dollars a minute when I called.”
The “we” Diaka refers to isn’t only delegates from Sierra Leone, but people from all parts of the global south.
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From visa issues to lengthy quarantine periods and extortionate accommodation costs, scores of delegates from the most climate-vulnerable countries on earth have found themselves shut out from discussions at COP26 that will dictate their future survival.
In spite of being extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels, just two delegates from the Pacific Islands’ Climate Action Network have got to COP26 this year thanks to what a spokesperson called “health and logistical barriers”.
The group says the Islands’ perilous situation was “ignored” by other leaders in the run-up to COP, and now fears the event itself “will be neither inclusive nor ambitious due to the exclusion of Pacific Island voices”.
“Our leaders have to be held accountable [at COP26]”, says Diaka. She fears that without participation from civil society at the conference, Sierra Leone’s leaders won’t feel pressure to commit to climate targets.
“They’ll come back home and they’ll sign more authorisations to cut more trees down. They’ll ignore the impact it’s having.
Even for those who’ve made it to the conference in person, full participation has been fraught with yet more complications and barriers.
Last week, elders from the Indigenous alliance of the Americas, Minga Indigena, were forced to request an audience with the Scottish parliament after struggling to find affordable accommodation for their delegates.
And following a pledge from world leaders on Tuesday to end deforestation by 2030, Helen Magata of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change told The Big Issue: “We cannot really end deforestation without looking at human rights and indigenous people’s rights.
“We hear reports of brothers and sisters in the region where I come from in Asia and they continue to be criminalised. My organisation is being tagged as a supporter of terrorist groups just because we continue to speak up.”
In the blue zone meanwhile, observers from the global south are reportedly being barred from negotiation rooms due to Covid restrictions, leading climate justice attorney Sébastien Duyck to brand the event the “most exclusive COP in the past decade”.
In an event held in the COP26 UK pavilion on Tuesday, Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam, said that he was seeing more participation from excluded groups than in previous years, but that “the people most dramatically affected by climate breakdown just don’t have their voice heard in nearly as great a proportion as they need to be.”
He spoke alongside Margaret Masudio Eberu, a smallholder farmer from Uganda, who said voices of women like her had been forgotten in climate debates.
“If it wasn’t for this [event], who would hear our voices?” she asked the room.
Dr Dhananjayan simply asked the room to look around for a sense of how exclusionary this year’s COP was.
“The richest 10 per cent of the world was responsible for half of all emissions over the past 25 years.
“Look around the room – who here is part of that 10 per cent?” he said.
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The event organisers, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland in conjunction with the Scottish government, have produced a communique on inclusion of voices from the global south in COP26.
The document is urging leaders at COP26 to improve access for voices from the global south, make climate finance fully accessible and ensure a just transition for these more vulnerable parts of the world.
For Diaka’s part, she questions why COP26 events continue to be hosted and dominated by wealthier nations who are less affected by extreme weather events that are already destroying her country.
“Maybe the next COP, COP27, should be held in the global south…it would be so much more representative”.
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