The global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is a test run for wealthy nations’ ability to act in mutual self-interest to limit climate change, and they’re failing, the New York Times reports. “In both cases, it’s about a willingness to redistribute resources,” Yale University economist Rohini Pande told the Times. The U.S. is sitting on millions of surplus vaccine doses with nearly half the population at least partially vaccinated, while India is ravaged by the virus and people die as medical oxygen runs out.

The crisis augurs directly and ominously for global efforts to cut global greenhouse gas pollution. American pharmaceutical companies and their backers in the White House oppose sharing intellectual property that could accelerate vaccine distribution. Suffocating debt burdens owed to international financial institutions created and controlled by rich nations prevent developing countries from adapting to climate change and building out clean energy, while rich nations like the U.S. have yet to make good on their promise to fund climate projects in developing nations.

COP26 Impacts

The vaccine distribution failure will also have immediate impacts on international climate efforts, as vaccine shortages could prevent representatives of developing nations from attending COP26 in Glasgow in November, further marginalizing the voice of the Global South in critical policy negotiations. “Equity is not on the agenda,” Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale epidemiology professor and veteran activist for global access to AIDS drugs, told the Times. “If we can’t do it for the worst pandemic in a century, how are we going to do it for climate change?”

Just as COVID-19 has hit developing countries hardest, so too are the world’s poor bearing the brunt of climate change, despite being the least responsible for it. “If this is the way rich countries conducted themselves in a global crisis — where they took care of their own needs first, took care of companies, did not recognize that this is an opportunity to reach out and demonstrate solidarity — then there’s no good track record for how they will conduct themselves in the face of other global crises, such as the climate crisis, where poorer countries will bear the highest burdens,” Tasneem Essop, a former government official from South Africa and current director of Climate Action Network, told the Times. (New York Times $)