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We cannot continue to allow people with disabilities to be overlooked in the fight against climate change

3 min read

Last week, world leaders began to gather in Glasgow to discuss the future of our planet at the COP26 Summit. However, the future of our planet must be an accessible one where disabled people (quite literally) can get to the table.

Karine Elharrar, Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources, was reportedly turned away from COP26 after the event she was due to attend was not wheelchair accessible. Organisers have reported accessibility checks had previously taken place, to ensure that the event venues were accessible. A COP26 spokesperson stated: “We remain committed to an inclusive event accessible to all, and the venue was designed to facilitate that.”

However, we must ask ourselves, if a high-profile event, like COP26, that has been worked out and developed for years, still fell short of being practically accessible, where else may we be falling short? 

People with disabilities are among those most vulnerable to climate change, yet they are the least likely to have contributed to it

Accessibility checks are clearly not robust enough, and despite the outrage on social media, I know people with disabilities across the U.K would not be shocked by Minister Elharrar’s experience.

The experience of Minister Elharrar serves as a reminder of the situation faced by people with disabilities every day; the needs of disabled people continually go unrecognised, and they are often left out of important conversations that impact them.  

Climate change is a disability issue. People with disabilities are among those most vulnerable to climate change, according to the UN Human Rights Council, yet they are the least likely to have contributed to it. 

Therefore, people with disabilities absolutely need to be involved in the planning and development of infrastructure to ensure it is accessible for all. 

About 15 per cent of the global population are persons with disabilities, so it is imperative that they be represented, and their voices are heard. We cannot continue to allow people with disabilities to be overlooked in our ongoing fight against climate change. 

A step in the right direction would be to ensure elected office and careers in politics are accessible. Parliaments around the world should be leading by example, their accessibility practices should set the tone across their respective nations, and they should be actively welcoming people with disabilities to the table. 

Once this is done, not only will our everyday lives become more accessible, but also our future. 

Sir David Attenborough perhaps described it best, addressing the Summit when he said: “A tale of the smartest species doomed by that all too human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short term goals.”

Climate change is being addressed because its impact will ultimately affect everyone, but its consequences have long been felt by people with disabilities. We must acknowledge that climate change disproportionately affects people with disabilities and work to better everyone’s situation especially the situations of those who too often go unheard.


Lisa Cameron is the SNP MP for East Kilbride and chair of the APPG on Disability.  

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