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The Vaccination Gap Is Jeopardizing Climate Action

Failure to heal divisions over vaccine availability for developing countries could poison the well of global cooperation and imperil the COP26 climate negotiations. Advanced economies should therefore offer the Global South a “solidarity package” encompassing vaccine distribution, debt relief, and climate goals.

PARIS – Will negotiators from the Global South be barred from attending the United Nations climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November because they are not vaccinated against COVID-19? This scenario will not arise, one hopes, because developing-country officials will almost certainly receive their shots in advance. But whether they will want to negotiate with rich economies that have been hoarding vaccines is less clear.

Welcome to 2021, where global climate negotiations could become collateral damage of vaccine nationalism. In normal times, the bone of contention between rich and poor countries was who should bear the brunt of efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the pandemic has already pushed back climate talks by a year, and now threatens to create an additional North-South rift.

In January, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his last month as chair of the African Union, lambasted developed countries for ordering vaccines amounting to “up to four times what their population needs.” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, warned of a possible “catastrophic moral failure” owing to unequal vaccine distribution. And both the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, and UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima have denounced the current global “vaccine apartheid.”