COP26: Israeli minister excluded from summit for whole day due to wheelchair inaccessibility

Israeli's energy minister Karine Elharrar (left) with Tzipi Hotovely, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom (right) Credit: Karine Elharrar/Twitter

Israel's energy minister has said she was unable to attend the United Nations' COP26 summit in Glasgow for an entire day because it was not accessible by wheelchair.

On Monday, the first day of the conference, Karine Elharrar criticised the UN for promoting disability equality while failing to "provide accessibility to its events".

Ms Elharrar reportedly told Israel's Channel 12 she couldn't access the conference because her only options were to walk or take a shuttle not suitable for a wheelchair.

Israel's foreign minister Yair Lapid supported his colleague on Twitter.

"A note to the organisers of #COP26 in Glasgow: it is impossible to safeguard our future and address the climate crisis, without first and foremost caring for people, including ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities," he said.

Subsequently, the British ambassador to Israel, Neil Wigan, apologised to Ms Elharrar.

"I am disturbed to hear that Karine Elharrar was unable to attend meetings at COP26. I apologise deeply and sincerely to the minister. We want a COP Summit that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone," Wigan wrote on Twitter.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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Britain's Middle East minister also weighed in, saying he was "deeply disappointed and frustrated" that the venue wasn't accessible.

James Cleverly added: "The COP venue is designed to be accessible for all. I have spoken to the Minister about this and I look forward to meeting her tomorrow."

Ms Elharrar said she hoped a solution would be found by Tuesday.

On the second day of the conference, more than 100 world leaders will sign up to a landmark agreement to protect and restore the Earth’s forests, the UK government has said. Leaders covering 85% of the world’s forests will commit to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.