Pacific region scale back attendance at COP26 due to COVID-19 pandemic


By Pita Ligaiula in Glasgow

Pacific nations are on the frontlines of climate change because of rising sea levels risk having the smallest voice at the crucial COP26 talks this week due to COVID-19 pandemic.

PACNEWS understands only three Pacific leaders from Fiji, Tuvalu and Palau are in Glasgow this week for climate change talks.

Low-lying Pacific islands are being battered by the climate crisis – not just from rising temperatures and changing weather patterns, but more urgently by rising sea levels which could lead to whole countries being submerged.

Covid-19 restrictions, long visa processes, soaring hotel prices and changing quarantine policies mean that many would-be delegates have stayed at home.

Forum Secretary General Henry Puna told PACNEWS, the world is not taking seriously the issue of climate change.

“It’s a very difficult mission and I think the problem is the world is not taking seriously the issue of climate change. I guess it’s very different from the pandemic because everybody is affected by… I mean people are dying, people are getting sick and there is real urgency among the world community to do something about it and yet climate change is heading in the same direction,” said Puna.

Current climate commitments put the world on track for a 2.7C rise in temperature this century, the United Nations said, well above the 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement which will already be catastrophic for many Pacific island nations.

“While we in the Pacific and all small low lying island states are feeling the impacts now, the rest of the world doesn’t seem to think that it’s something they should be concerned about and that really is the challenge we face.

I think it’s the matter of convenience for them that they don’t want to change because the economy is based on it and its very difficult for it to change and yet everybody agrees that we need to take science seriously that’s what governs our life, but they don’t seem to take it seriously and that really is a challenge we face,” Puna told PACNEWS in Glasgow.

SG Puna said Covid-19 pandemic has affected many Pacific nations participation at the COP26.

“The pandemic has prevented a lot of our leaders to be here but yes for us… from the Forum Secretariat, this is one of the biggest delegations and it’s a matter of having to be here so that we can support our leaders and climate champions and offer them technical support where necessary,” said Puna.

More than 30,000 people are expected to attend, from world leaders to NGOs, businesses, journalists, lobbyists, negotiators and protestors.

PACNEWS coverage from Glasgow is possible with the assistance of the Pacific Islands Forum through the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC).