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Many Voices from Global South Shut Out of U.N. Climate Summit as Vaccine Apartheid Limits Travel to U.K.

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This year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow may be the whitest and most privileged one ever, with thousands from the Global South unable to attend because of lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines and travel restrictions. The global inequity in vaccine access mirrors the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis that has fallen mostly on poor countries least responsible for emissions, says climate activist Dipti Bhatnagar in Mozambique. “The people who need to be there, who need to hold people accountable, are not going to be there,” says Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, who was unable to attend the climate conference in Scotland because of a lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines. “What is going to come out of this COP is going to be largely illegitimate because of the way that they’ve organized it and because of the intentions behind it.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Some 30,000 people are expected to take part in the two-week U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, but many warn the gathering will be the whitest and the most privileged climate summit ever, with thousands from the Global South unable to attend because of lack of access to COVID vaccines and visa issues.

We go now to Mozambique, where we’re joined by Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International. She is joining us from Maputo. And in a moment we’ll be joined by her colleague, Mary Church of Glasgow, Scotland, inside the COP, where we will join them virtually.

Dipti, thanks so much for being with us. It’s great to have you with us. Usually we’re together at the U.N. climate summit. Now we’re providing that global kitchen table for people to sit around and discuss and debate the most critical issues of the day. Can you talk about why you’re not at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow this year?

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: Thanks, Amy. Great to be talking to you again. I definitely wish we were speaking in person, but this is what the pandemic has done. It’s been absolutely devastating for so many people across the globe.

And, as Asad was saying, the organization of this COP has been very deliberately done by the U.K. government to be this really exclusionary space, because they know that if the people from the Global South, if the progressive civil society from the Global South are not there to hold people accountable in the halls of power, it’s going to be a lot easier for them to get away with — you know, with carbon markets, with not putting the finance on the table, not putting the emissions reductions on the table. So, for so many people like me, I am so privileged compared to so many people around me here in Mozambique and in this continent of Africa. People have faced huge burdens to be able to get to the COP, and most people have just not managed.

So, the vaccine situation across this continent, you can quite imagine. People are calling it vaccine apartheid for a reason, Amy. People have not got access. I think the access rate in Mozambique currently is around 6 to 7% of people have access to the vaccine. And, of course, the visa burdens have been huge, and the changing rules, Amy, constantly changing quarantine rules. So, Mozambique was on the red list until a few weeks ago, and that was when, you know, we, Justice Ambiental, Friends of the Earth Mozambique, myself, we made this decision that we’re not going to be able to go. And things are constantly changing. And today, Amy, the red list has been ended by the U.K. And those who were still on the red list who were planning to go and do the managed quarantine, which was supposed to be paid for by the U.K. government, today the red list has ended. The quarantine hotel is not going to be paid anymore, so people who are already on their way have to now find accommodation of their own.

This is just one example of the type of barriers that have been put on the table, for which reason so many people who usually go there — because the COP is an exclusive space at the best of times — but people who usually go there, many, many have not been able to make it. And that’s why what is going to come out of this COP, because the people who need to be there, who need to hold people accountable are not going to be there — those who are there, we’re in solidarity with, our comrades who are on the ground there, but what is going to come out of this COP is going to be largely illegitimate, because of the way that they’ve organized it and because of the intentions behind it.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain more what this red list is.

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: So, the red list was a list of countries from which, if you traveled to the U.K., you had to quarantine for five days in England or 10 days in Scotland. And that was in a managed quarantine situation in a government hotel, and the U.K. government says, “OK, we will cover the cost of the hotel.” But for a woman like myself, I didn’t feel safe being in someone else’s space confined for five days, not knowing what the situation was. You know, for some people, it’s quite normal; this quarantine situation has been normalized for people who are traveling. For us, it’s not the case, and that’s why it didn’t feel safe to make those decisions.

I understand that we’re in a pandemic. We shouldn’t be hosting this COP right now. I’m not saying, you know, that there shouldn’t have been quarantine, because we need to protect also the people of Glasgow, so that they don’t have all these people coming into their city and possibly causing a superspreader event. We don’t want that. That’s why, as Asad said, in early September so many civil society organizations said, “This is not the right time to have the COP. And the U.K. government, the way you’ve been organizing it” — Amy, we don’t know anyone who actually got the vaccines under the vaccine scheme that the U.K. government promised. I know lots of people who applied for it. I don’t know a single person who actually got it. So these conditions leading up to the COP mean that it should not be held in this way.

And the images from this morning, Amy, people trying to get into the conference center, forget about social distancing. People are just all over each other, in the bitter cold, waiting to get in, because of how badly this has been planned. And for us, it’s not been planned badly just because; this is intentional, so that the voices that are challenging those power relations don’t get to be there, or get to be weakened while they’re there. That’s the idea.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we almost didn’t have Asad because he was in the security line for so long. But can you explain what net zero is and why you want to dismantle what you call the myth of net zero?

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: Absolutely. So, this is being called the net zero COP, because the U.K. government has, for the last two years, since the last COP happened in Madrid — has been trying to push this idea of net zero. And it sounds really nice to people. OK, there’s a zero in it. But net zero is not zero, because their entire idea, Amy, is that the polluters will keep polluting as long as they can sequester their emissions elsewhere. So it’s about emitting and then pulling it out of the air, so the net still becomes zero.

And the message that we’re giving, so many civil society across the world — there’s a new website that has been launched today: “Real Solutions, Not ’Net Zero.” There are some dashes in there. This is a civil society effort to say no to net zero, because this is an escape hatch for polluters to continue polluting. And not only that, they’re planning — where are they going to sequester these carbon emissions? They want the lands and the forests of communities in the Global South who are using those resources. They want those. So, this isn’t just about — you know, this is a rhetoric about the climate crisis, but it’s also the financialization of nature and grabbing more lands and having more resources in the hands of corporations and the elites. And that is what we are totally against.

Net zero is a Trojan horse also for geoengineering. This is really about all these unproven, untested, dangerous technologies that they’re trying to trot out, just because — just because they do not want to change status quo. They do not want to reduce their emissions. So they’re making us think that this is something that’s going to help, but it’s absolutely not. It’s going to make things worse. That is why we’re saying no to net zero, yes to real solutions, yes to system change.

AMY GOODMAN: And why are you concerned about the participation at the COP26 of Mark Carney, the U.N. special envoy for climate action, finance adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, proponent of what’s called a voluntary mechanism for scaling up carbon markets? What message do you have for him, Dipti?

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: Sure. So, Mark Carney used to be part of the Bank of England, so you get an idea of the type of people that Boris Johnson has put in place to lead this task force on scaling up voluntary carbon markets, as you were saying. Carbon markets is so linked to net zero because carbon markets is about trading pollution. So that’s when you know that is their plan. They want to keep emitting, and they need a mechanism to be able to trade carbon, so that they can say, “Oh, someone else is sucking that carbon out of the air, so we’re fine.”

So, Article 6 negotiations, Amy, have broken down every year. The last time that we were there, in Madrid, civil society gave a huge push against Article 6, against the carbon markets negotiations, and the negotiations broke down. So, many of us who cannot be there this year, what it means is that they’re actually planning to push Article 6 carbon markets and close the agreement this year. This part of the agreement, they have not managed to decide since the Paris Agreement was signed six years ago.

So, people like Mark Carney, where they come from, the role that they play here is really pushing the — so, the idea is pushing carbon markets within the UNFCCC’s framework, within the Conference of the Parties framework, as well as the voluntary carbon markets that they’re trying to push. It’s all for financializing and commodifying nature. It’s for pretending to do something on the climate crisis but not doing it, while they strengthen financial markets on nature and grab lands. This is really the game that they’re playing here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re talking —

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: And our people are going to be there to oppose it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dipti Bhatnagar, who is climate justice and energy justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International. She is with us from Maputo, Mozambique.

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