The COP26 climate summit is taking place against the backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic. As richer nations begin to reopen, thanks to rapid vaccination programs, most people in developing countries are still waiting for their first dose, despite global pledges to distribute more vaccines.
Analysts say distrust between richer and poorer nations could hamper climate negotiations at the COP26 summit.
In most high-income countries, more than 70% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But in low-income countries, the figure is less than 4%, according to figures from the University of Oxford.
“If this level of vaccine inequity remains in place, 5 million people will die unnecessarily next year,” said Robert Yates, director of the global health program at Chatham House.
At the G-7 summit in June, leaders of the world’s richest nations pledged to share 1 billion vaccine doses with poorer countries — half from the United States. In total, the U.S. has now pledged to share 1.1 billion doses through 2022.
Yet, while many Western nations are offering a third booster shot for fully vaccinated adults, most people in developing nations still await their first dose.
As negotiations on combating climate change continue at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, trust between poorer and richer nations is fragile, Yates said.
“You can very much see countries, particularly in the South, saying, ‘Well, why should we cooperate with you on this issue which is happening now but is going to get worse — on the situation around climate change — when you’re patently not helping us at sufficient scale on something of a much, much more immediate nature that can threaten millions of people's lives next year?’”
COP26 organizers offered free vaccines to registered delegates unable to get them in their home countries. However, high travel costs, a lack of hotel rooms and concerns over high COVID-19 infection rates in Britain have kept some participants away.
Musonda Mumba, director of the Rome Center for Sustainable Development, part of the United Nations Development Program, chose not to attend the summit. She recently spoke to VOA from Nairobi.
“Climate change is not just a climate issue, it's a climate justice issue. And so, you see an intersection on the COVID side of things and on the climate change side of things, as well, really converging. The issue of trust and empathy and transparency has come up over and over and over again. And I think this will be the test case. This will be a testing moment for the world, this Glasgow COP,” she said.
Scientists say the world is facing two emergencies at once. At the COP26 summit, there is a recognition that countries must work together to tackle the existential threat of climate change. But many of the delegates will return home to countries still gripped by the coronavirus pandemic in urgent need of lifesaving vaccines.