Our Programmes and Advocacy Executive, Anthony Ford Shubrook OBE discusses accessibility challenges at COP26 and highlights why people with disabilities need to have a say when it comes to climate change.
“This month world leaders have come together for the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow with the ambition of reaching an agreement to combat climate change. The effect of a changing climate brings extra challenges to those with disabilities, further exacerbating pre-existing inequalities. Already vulnerable and living in poverty, people with disabilities struggle to adapt especially those living in developing countries lacking access to basic services and infrastructure. People with disabilities are rarely involved in emergency planning, despite their complex needs requiring more planning. In the UNCRPD, Article 11 distinctly stipulates that the needs of those with disabilities need to be a part of emergency planning and all necessary protections should be provided. It is imperative that those with disabilities are included in climate change decision-making as there are specific problems that people with disabilities are best placed to solve.
There are many health issues that will be compounded by climate change. Reduced air quality caused by pollution will increase disabilities such as asthma; as well infectious diseases and waterborne diseases will increase such as malaria. Those with respiratory difficulties are likely to be harmed most severely. People with disabilities, who already face multiple barriers in their day to day lives will have to further adapt to an environment where they may be unable to access the services and medicines that they rely on to stay healthy. This will also bring about reduced access to fresh water and will further aggravate problems with accessing WASH facilities for people with disabilities, currently already a major problem.
Employment is another area where people with disabilities may face complex barriers. Those who rely on agriculture for employment will be hardest hit by a warming world. Yet it is often those with disabilities that will find it difficult to find alternative employment, leaving many unemployed. 80% of people with disabilities live in the developing world, many of whom live in inadequately constructed houses, which are more likely to be destroyed by increasing levels of storms, flooding, and loss of power. Those with disabilities are less likely to be able to afford to rebuild their homes and find it harder to relocate. People with disabilities will also struggle if there are food shortages caused by climate change. Many children already suffer from malnutrition and the health complications that come with it. This is likely to increase due to limited access the health services because of lack of mobility and poverty.
People with disabilities must have their voice heard at major events such as COP 26, as they are in the best position to find the solutions to the issues they face. Nonetheless, many people with disabilities living in the global south rarely get the chance to access these events as there is limited funding to enable them to take part. It would seem more practical for people with disabilities to participate virtually when in fact this is often not workable due to poor connectivity, meaning that the voice of people with disabilities gets left behind.
Indeed, when I attended the COP in Mexico, I faced my own access challenges. No accessible transport was provided, and I was not informed about this until I arrived in Mexico. If I had not made my own arrangements, I would not have been able to attend the talk, and would have been unable to have a voice. Somewhat ironic when I was asked to be part of the delegation to represent the unique voice of persons with disabilities. One would hope over the years that basic issues like this would have been rectified. Unfortunately, 11 years later little has changed.
Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar was unable to attend the first day of COP26 because it was not wheelchair accessible. It is a powerful reminder that, ‘we can talk about the rights of persons with disabilities but in life we need to implement the conventions and pay attention to the details’. We must ensure that physical access arrangements are a given to ensure that people with disabilities are granted the opportunities to attend, as well as virtual platforms so that people who cannot attend still have a voice. Failing to do so leaves people with disabilities feeling ‘ignored or left out of conversations about climate change’.
Children with disabilities often are underrepresented at major events, even though their voices are required to ensure their needs are addressed. There is a lack of data for how climate change will impact children with disabilities. Yet the effects of climate change are likely to be even more catastrophic for people with disabilities, and especially children with disabilities if they fail to be included in conversations and policies now about a disability inclusive approach to the climate change emergency. The effects of climate change will have a profound effect on children with disabilities at a time when they have already been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems to be that people with disabilities are the last to receive help.
During the pandemic children with disabilities have not received the help they need. With schools being shut for many months and health services being harder to access, children with disabilities have fallen behind in their education and healthcare. There is great fear that children with disabilities may not return to school. This will heavily influence their futures. The climate change emergency will further impact children with disabilities and will lead to an increased amount of people with disabilities, particularly children and their ability to seek medical treatment for preventable diseases.
Youth and children with disabilities are likely to be disproportionately affected by climate change, but their voices are neither part of the decision-making process or heard in global conversation. When will this change?”