ACTIVISTS with first-hand experience of the devastating global impacts of the climate crisis could be shut out of the COP26 conference in Glasgow because of “discriminatory” Home Office rules, it has been claimed.

UK ministers have been accused of “actively hindering the global fight against climate change” by freezing out activists with lived experienced of climate change from taking part.

With just three months to go until the crucial climate conference, a coalition of campaigners has warned the event must be “representative and inclusive” amid fears those wanting to come to Glasgow to have their say are being blocked by the UK Government’s strict immigration rules.

Without changes, alarm has been raised that UK ministers will be seen by developing countries to be merely hosting a “glamorous party of high-level champions from rich countries who ignore what it is like to live without food, water or security” in Glasgow.

The COP26 Coalition, a UK-based alliance of civil society groups, is raising money to launch a visa support service, with the aim of getting around 200 participants from the global south to Glasgow.

The group has claimed that issues navigating the Home Office’s immigration system to obtain visiting visas is putting up barriers to activists from developing nations being able to take part in COP26.

The coalition has claimed the system often makes discriminatory decisions, refuses a right to appeal and is made up of a complex documentation process that penalises poorer applicants.

Issues have also been raised over new Brexit rules and potential quarantine restrictions also freezing out those from developing nations.

Rachael Osgood, COP26 Coalition’s visa support service co-ordinator, said: “Borders and boundaries extend well beyond physical checkpoints.

“The often-discriminatory immigration decisions made by the Home Office towards frontline and global south communities is a direct window into the processes of exclusion which have come to define the COP itself. Such actions must not continue. We need inclusive system change based on justice, dignity, and accessibility - to support rather than hinder the voices of those most deeply affected by this crisis.”

Warnings have previously been issued about developing nations being excluded from global climate talks. While developed countries have largely escaped the worst impacts of climate change so far, developing countries, many of which lack the infrastructure and funding to mitigate the impacts, have borne the brunt of human impact on climate.

The pandemic has made it even more difficult for developing nations to respond to climate change.

A report from the UN independent expert group on climate finance warned in December 2020 that “developing countries have been particularly hard hit” by Covid-19, adding that “many are facing fiscal and financial pressures, and in many cases a mounting debt crisis”.

It added: “The economic repercussions are likely to be deeper and more prolonged for them, increasing their vulnerability to future shocks.”

Last week, following international talks in London, Germany and Canada agreed to take forward a delivery plan for mobilising the $100 billion a year from developed countries that had previously been promised “to address the needs of developing countries” in fighting the climate crisis, which was supposed to have been agreed by 2020.

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Paula Tassara, an artist and activist with the Chilean Cultura Planetaria Collective, said: “Global south representation has never been more critical. In our absence, there is a great risk that those who are facing the worst impacts of climate change may view COP26 as just another glamorous party of high-level champions from rich countries who ignore what it is like to live without food, water or security.”

“The overall legitimacy of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is at risk.

“COP must be representative and inclusive. Currently it is not.”

The COP26 Coalition visa support service is being moved forward in partnership with legal social enterprise Teneu Legal who will provide their expertise assisting with visit visa applications.

Teneu Legal are offering their services at a heavily reduced fee so the COP26 Coalition visa support service can assist as many people as possible.

Accepted applicants’ visa applications and supporting documents will be reviewed by a specialist immigration solicitor, under the plans.

SNP immigration spokesperson, Anne McLaughlin, said: “The Tories and their ‘hostile environment’ policies are now actively hindering the global fight against climate change and must be scrapped.

“COP26 will play a vital role in tackling the climate crisis - it is important that people, particularly those with lived experiences, from all over the world are there to contribute and help to develop policies to save our planet and protect us all.

“The UK Government should be making it easier, not harder, for them to get here. I am urging Priti Patel to do what it takes to ensure that those who will have invaluable contributions to make to the climate change conference are able to be there.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “People seeking to visit the UK are assessed against the published immigration rules.

“These rules and the guidance they need is freely available on Gov.UK. However, we are in a global health pandemic and there are restrictions on travel for public health reasons. The UK Government and the public rightly expect international visitors to comply with these rules.”