According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, rich nations are vaccinating one person every second while the majority of the poorest nations are yet to give a single dose. Of the more than 700 million coronavirus vaccine doses that have been administered across the globe, just 0.2% have gone to people in low-income nations—inequity that experts warn will persist unless rich countries end their obstruction of an international effort to suspend vaccine patents. Pharmaceutical companies cling to their monopoly control over technology.
According to a recent Bloomberg analysis of vaccination data, "the world's least wealthy continent, Africa, is also the least vaccinated. Of its 54 countries, only three have have inoculated more than 1% of their populations. More than 20 countries aren't even on the board yet."
"On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people has received a vaccine. In low-income countries, it's one in more than 500," said WHO Director General Tedros. "Let me repeat that: one in four versus one in 500."
The ‘vaccine nationalism’ that we see now reflects the reality of the climate negotiations. Countries in the climate talks understandably promote and protect their interests in any negotiation. Those with more power can get more, rich and powerful nations can expedite what needs doing or block and delay actions if they are against their interests.
We can also see similarities in what is called ‘vaccine apartheid’ and climate apartheid. While the UK, the US, wealthier countries in Europe and other rich nations in the negotiations are way ahead in vaccinating their populations, many developing countries are still waiting to access Covid-19 vaccines. In February, the UN called the vaccine inequality “wildly uneven and unfair” when just 10 countries had administered 75% of all Covid-19 vaccines while 130 nations hadn’t received a single dose.
Another similarity is in the way countries act in response to both Covid-19 and the climate crisis.
Wealthier countries have bought up many more doses than needed by their populations. The UK, for example, could vaccinate people here many times over while those in developing countries will need to wait because we bought up the supplies in advance and there’s nothing left for them. Then at the same time, the same countries that stockpiled on supplies are blocking the attempts of developing countries to increase the number of laboratories or companies that could manufacture more vaccines. They are doing this through blocking the request by countries led by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation to waive certain intellectual property rights.
In the climate negotiations, big historical emitters continue with excessive greenhouse gas emissions while keeping developing countries waiting for urgently needed climate finance and technologies to address the already destructive impacts of climate change.
Developing countries are resisting holding the COP26 talks online.
They argue that “virtual negotiations should not replace in-person negotiations” and that it will risk disadvantaging many developing countries. Some of the reasons enumerated include poor internet connections in developing countries and time zone differences as these will make it very difficult for developing countries to fully participate. Friends of the Earth argue as well that a shift to online negotiations would seriously disadvantage global south participation due to major challenges with digital connectivity, interpretation and in co-ordinating across multiple time zones.
Developing country diplomats are concerned too that Covid-19 jabs will be a prerequisite to attending COP26 while their countries are still waiting for their vaccines. More than 20,000 people attended the last two summits which were held in Madrid and Poland. Prior to the pandemic, 30,000 people from more than 200 countries were expected to participate in the negotiations and in numerous side events in COP26 organised by governments, business and non-government organisations, as well as various public fora. It would be impossible to replicate this inclusivity in an online setting. It is also crucial that negotiators from developing countries have the opportunities to consult and discuss with each other while the negotiations are ongoing, especially since climate actions will affect their future economic development.