Disabled activists have called on the UN’s COP27 conference to stop excluding them from discussions and solutions around climate change.
They say it is vital that disabled people are included in COP27 – currently being held in Egypt – and future COP events as “equal partners”.
And they warn that laws, policies and programmes that aim to address climate change are failing to consider the needs of disabled people or the impact on them of proposed changes.
The letter was put together by a new coalition headed by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), and follows a round-table event attended by disabled activists from Britain, New Zealand, Egypt and Northern Ireland.
In their letter, the new coalition tell the COP27 conference that they are “deeply concerned” about global warming and the absence of disabled people from decision-making on climate change.
They say that disabled people are disproportionately impacted by disasters – such as Hurricane Katrina, the Grenfell Tower fire and the Covid pandemic – and would be disproportionately affected by rising global temperatures.
They say in the letter that solutions to address climate change – including banning cars from certain streets and building inaccessible charging points for electric vehicles – have often discriminated against disabled people.
They point out that disabled people’s organisations must be funded to carry out the “crucial role” they should play “in all aspects of climate response planning, implementation, and evaluation”.
They add: “Representatives from the global Disabled community must be at the table when environmental solutions are being developed and implemented, to prevent societal barriers to our inclusion increasing rather than reducing.”
And they call on the UN to ensure that all COP, political and climate events are designed to be accessible to disabled people.
They add: “It is vital that Disabled people are part of the world-wide work to address climate change and develop solutions for an inclusive and sustainable world.”
One of the coalition members, disabled climate activist Pauline Castres, told Disability News Service (DNS) yesterday (Wednesday): “At COP conferences and all year long we are an afterthought at best and seen as an obstacle and intentionally side-lined at worst.
“Yet we cannot resolve the pressing issues that underpin climate inaction without addressing the exact same issues that suffocate our community: relentless austerity measures, short-termism and profits-driven economies, underfunded and understaffed workforces, and lack of accountability of those holding political and economical power.
“Disabled people must lead climate conversation and by that I mean disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).
“The international climate and disability space is starting to fill up with non-user-led disability charities when we need DPOs, including from the Global South, leading those conversations.
“But, like in the UK, many DPOs across the world are struggling to find sufficient funding to survive and expand.
“This COP, like previous COP conferences, has been hijacked by big polluters like Coca-Cola, one of the biggest plastic polluters in the world, when disabled people who need straws to survive have been made to feel ashamed for using single-use plastic straws, which merely represent 0.025 per cent of overall plastic pollution, according to National Geographic.”
The formation of the new coalition follows a series of reports by DNS about last year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, which saw disabled climate activists describe the failure of the UK and other governments to include disabled people in key parts of the Glasgow climate change agreement as “beyond disgraceful”.
Despite campaigners repeatedly highlighting through the COP26 conference how climate change was having a disproportionate impact on disabled people across the planet, the final text (PDF) of the UN agreement mentioned disabled people only once.
The repeated omissions from key areas of the text appeared to breach the UN’s own Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which makes it clear in article four that governments should “closely consult with” and “actively involve” disabled people through their own organisations when making decisions on issues affecting them.
This omission of disabled people came after the UK government admitted that there had been widespread and serious access failings at the conference in Glasgow.
Picture: A frame from the UN’s COP27 video