U.K. Apologizes to Israeli Minister Who Missed COP26 Over Wheelchair Access

The U.K. has apologized to Israel's energy minister after she revealed she was unable to attend the United Nation's COP26 climate summit in Scotland for an entire day because it was not accessible for her wheelchair.

In an interview with Israel's Channel 12 on Monday, on the first day of the two-week summit, Karine Elharrar-Hartstein criticized the U.N. for promoting disability equality while failing to "provide accessibility to its events." Elharrar has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.

"I came to COP26 to meet my counterparts in the world and advance our joint struggle against the climate crisis," Elharrar wrote on Twitter. "It's sad that the United Nations, which promotes accessibility for people with disabilities, in 2021 doesn't worry about accessibility at its own events."

She said if a solution wasn't found by Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is not wheelchair bound, would not attend the conference.

The conference is being organized by the British Cabinet Office, as the U.K. is the host country.

A COP26 spokesperson told Newsweek: "This was a genuine mistake and we have apologized to Minister Elharrar-we look forward to her attendance at COP26 today. We remain committed to an inclusive event accessible to all and the venue was designed to facilitate that."

The organizers said that Elharrar's lack of access was "an isolated incident" and that the venue is "fully wheelchair accessible" and holds "gold level accessibility status."

James Cleverly, the U.K.'s Middle East minister, expressed his dismay that Elharrar could not access the conference on Monday.

"I am deeply disappointed and frustrated that Minister @KElharrar could not access COP today," Cleverly said on Twitter. "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."

The British ambassador to Israel, Neil Wigan, also apologized for the mishap on Twitter.

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

Israel's Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid tweeted his support for Elharrar. "Note to the organizers of the climate conference in Glasgow: It is impossible to worry about the future, the climate, and sustainability if we do not take care of people, accessibility and people with disabilities first," he wrote.

The COP26 started in earnest on Monday, with world leaders striking a somber note.

"We are digging our own graves," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said. "Our planet is changing before our eyes—from the ocean depths to mountaintops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events."

President Joe Biden on Sunday evening criticized Russia and China for not sending their heads of state to the G20 climate talks and not doing enough to curb emissions.

Karine Elharrar and Boris Johnson at COP26
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) is introduced to Israel's Energy Minister Karine Elharrar (2nd L) during a meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) on the side-lines on day three of COP26 at SECC on November 2, 2021 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. Elharrar revealed she was unable to attend the United Nation’s COP26 climate summit in Scotland for an entire day because it was not accessible for her wheelchair. Alberto Pezzali/Getty