The world’s top 10 oil producing countries have sent almost twice as many delegates to COP26 as the group of 38 small island states most at risk from the climate crisis.
The 38 island states — which are particularly threatened by sea-level rises, extreme weather and resource depletion caused by climate change — have sent a combined 882 named representatives to Glasgow. This is just over six per cent of the total national delegates attending the flagship UN conference.
Meanwhile 1,742 named delegates from the world’s top ten oil producing nations, which include the USA, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, have registered for the summit. Brazil alone has more than half as many accredited individuals as all 38 small island states.
Climate groups told The Ferret it was “outrageous” that big oil producers had such a say in the talks, while “those on the frontlines of the crisis are unable to attend”. Small island states need “more than anyone to participate in decision making, observe the process and provide accountability,” they added.
The findings come from an analysis conducted by The Ferret of national delegations in the Provisional List of Participants (PLOP) at COP26, published by the United Nations this week.
The PLOP lists all the accredited delegates who were expected to attend the conference, including those from countries, UN organisations, non-governmental organisations and the press. Given that it is only provisional, some who are on the list may not actually get to the conference.
The Carbon Brief website has reported that both Vanuatu and Samoa, who are part of the small island states group, have been unable to send their delegations. Another member, Kiribati, has no registered delegates.
The UK Government, which is hosting the summit, has faced repeated criticism for its failure to vaccinate and give visas to delegates from the global south. Campaigners say this has led the Glasgow summit to be the “most exclusionary COP ever”.
The provisional list also only includes named delegates, meaning that some participants are missing. These are called ‘overflow’ delegates, which parties can nominate without their names appearing on the official PLOP list.
During the COP26 negotiations, countries act in blocs representing similar interests. These blocs often determine which climate policies, targets and points of view individual countries will support.
The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) group is one of these blocs, and includes the 38 island nations from the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean.
But SIDS is dwarfed by some of the other negotiating blocs at the conference. The Umbrella Group — composed of 12 mostly high-emitting developed countries such as the US, Australia and Canada — has a combined 1,641 delegates at the summit.
The largest bloc is the African Group of Negotiators, which represents most African countries, and has 5,438 representatives registered for Glasgow. This group makes up nearly 40 per cent of the total delegates.
Three SIDS countries — St Vincent and Grenadines, Micronesia, and Dominica — are also among the 10 smallest national delegations. St Vincent and Grenadines has only registered three people for COP26, which ties them with Eritrea and North Korea for the smallest delegation.
As well as cooperating within blocs developed at previous climate conferences, states also work within more familiar intergovernmental groups like the European Union and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Delegates from OPEC — which represents 15 oil and gas-producing countries around the world — also outnumber those from SIDS countries, comprising nine per cent of total national representatives.
There are almost 40,000 named individuals registered for the official negotiations at the summit, suggesting COP26 will be the biggest yet.
The top five delegations come from Brazil, Turkey, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana and Russia. The UK has fielded a 230-strong team, including well-known faces like David Attenborough.
As well as the imbalance between big polluting countries and island states, there is also a gender disparity among delegates attending the conference.
According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, 65 per cent of delegates are men, meaning that this year’s COP is more male-dominated than the previous three.
Studies have shown that women are more likely to be affected by impacts from the climate crisis than men. Roles as primary caregivers and providers of food make them more vulnerable to the floods and drought that global heating is causing.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific board member and Fijian international human rights lawyer Kavita Naidu, who is at COP26, said: “Greenpeace stands in solidarity with developing countries and communities most affected by the impacts of the fossil-fuelled climate crisis.
“It’s outrageous for Big Oil to be given such a loud voice at these talks, when so many Pacific Islands nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis are unable to attend.
“If world leaders are serious about limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C, they should not allow the big polluters to set the agenda here. Leaders must heed the calls of the Climate Vulnerable Forum for nations to show progress in their climate targets annually, instead of every five years.
“And developed economies at COP26 must demonstrate how they will deliver the $100 billion pledged in 2015. To allow any delay in finance for adaptation will mean that many developing countries will face worse disasters more frequently without adequate resources to protect their people.”
Scott Tully, from campaign group Glasgow Calls Out Polluters, argued that those responsible for the climate crisis “still get disproportionate representation” at the climate negotiations, “despite their masses of resource and influence”.
“Small island states more than anyone need to participate in decision making, observe the process and provide accountability – this affects them more than anyone,” he added.
“This falls on the UK Government, the UN and global institutions who all at different times have failed to ensure the presence of the most impacted despite having ample opportunity to do so.
“The consequences will bear out in the talks: nonsense solutions like ‘net zero by 2050’ are getting advanced, whilst small island states will be left to deal with the harrowing consequences.”
The Ferret has asked the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is in charge of accreditation for delegates, to comment.
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