A coalition of more than 1,500 environmental groups has called for the postponement of the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow at the end of October, claiming global COVID vaccine distribution makes attendance unequal.
The talks, delayed by a year because of the pandemic, run from Oct 31 to Nov 12, and aim to help countries progress toward the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in a bid to limit the impact of climate change.
Usually, such a gathering would attract delegates from nearly 200 countries, but with so many places still facing major COVID-19 crises, or having limited vaccine programs, protesters calling themselves the Climate Action Network (CAN) say it is wrong for the summit to go ahead.
"Our concern is that those countries most deeply affected by the climate crisis and those countries suffering from the lack of support by rich nations in providing vaccines will be left out of the talks," CAN Executive Director Tasneem Essop told the Reuters news agency.
With the issue of climate change having been so visibly demonstrated by extreme weather conditions all over the world this year, the issue's already high stakes were raised further this summer by a report from the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled in conjunction with 234 authors and 195 governments.
It said it was now a "statement of fact" that humanity is damaging the climate, and it is "unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land".
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the findings a "code red" warning for humanity and said it increased the burden of responsibility on those taking part in the Glasgow summit. "There is no time for delay and no room for excuses. I count on government leaders and all stakeholders to ensure COP26 is a success," he added.
In response to the vaccine protest, a spokesperson for Guterres said the proven urgent nature of the COP26 agenda meant that there was no way it could be delayed any further.
"The global scientific community has made clear that climate change is now a global emergency and only an urgent and major step-up in climate action can keep the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach and protect the most vulnerable countries and communities from worsening climate impacts," he said.
The British government has begun delivering vaccines to conference delegates to enable them to be vaccinated in time for the event to take place, but CAN said it has not acted fast enough.
Alok Sharma, the British government representative overseeing the summit, said anyone needing to quarantine would have their costs paid by the government, so the talks could go ahead as planned.
"Ensuring that the voices of those most affected by climate change are heard is a priority ... if we are to deliver for our planet, we need all countries and civil society to bring their ideas and ambition to Glasgow," he said.