Wheelchair strife, scarce drinking water, $15 sandwiches and hotel prices at the COP27 climate summit have fueled anger and forced host nation Egypt into damage control, participants in the two-week meeting said.
Hosting a UN climate conference — bringing together up to 35,000 people from 195 countries each year — is a world-class logistical challenge, and veterans of the nearly 30-year process are used to minor inconveniences.
But this year’s sprawling event in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is plagued with problems, participants say, the most basic of which may be accessibility.
Pratima Gurung, who works for a disability advocacy group, said she and Krishna Gahatraj of the Disability Rights Fund, who uses a wheelchair, have been left “several times” in the middle of the road while waiting for shuttle buses.
Organizers “didn’t clearly instruct drivers” on how to accommodate people with disabilities, said Gurung, who heads the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association in Nepal.
While there are many ramps, participants with physical limitations say they are not standard and the UN climate summit has been particularly difficult for them to navigate.
“As a person with disabilities, COP is inherently inaccessible to me,” said Jason Boberg of SustainedAbility, who has attended the past five summits organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC.
But playing by the acronym, he has dubbed this year’s event the “UN Framework Convention on Concrete Curbs.”
There were also accessibility issues at last year’s meeting in Glasgow, with the Israeli energy minister initially unable to enter in her wheelchair.
– ‘Most confusing COP ever’ –
Another recurring complaint in Sharm el-Sheikh is poor and sparse signage.
“This is the most confusing COP ever,” said Bianca, a three-time climate summit participant who asked to be identified only by her first name.
The COP27 area is the size of a small city and is a sprawling archipelago of pavilions, meeting rooms, halls connected by bitumen roads that absorb the 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) heat.
Journalists in a hangar-like media center were seen in coats and scarves to protect themselves from the industrial air conditioning.
Also problematic and ironic, given the subject matter, is a chronic shortage of drinking water.
During the first week of the conference, which runs until November 18, scarce water dispensers were left empty for hours.
Deputies began bringing in their own supplies, and some are said to have ignored warnings not to drink desalinated water flowing from bathroom faucets.
“People who are already under stress” shouldn’t “look for water all the time,” said an NGO climate COP veteran.
Exorbitant food prices, including sandwiches costing up to $15, were especially problematic for those on a tight budget.
“I have never seen such awards at a COP,” said the NGO representative, who declined to be identified.
In response to the complaints, organizers made drinks free on Thursday and cut food prices in half for the remainder of the conference.
Well before COP27 kicked off on Nov. 6, alarm bells were ringing when the tourist city’s hotels suddenly tripled or quadrupled room rates, even for those with confirmed bookings.
Some delegates found that their reservations had been cancelled.
“People are now stranded, sleeping on the road, in bus stations,” Nigerian youth activist Olumide Idowu wrote on Twitter on Monday.
At a press conference Thursday, Wael Aboulmagd, special representative of the COP27 presidency, told reporters that the “one instance where people were asked to leave” “will not happen again” and that “government officials have intervened”.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)
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