Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, who was unable to attend the COP26 climate conference Monday because of a lack of wheelchair access, told CNN she has accepted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s apology.
“He [Johnson] was very kind and very friendly and he apologized. Of course, I accepted and hopefully, it won’t happen again,” Elharrar said to CNN’s Max Foster during an interview in Glasgow on Tuesday.
When asked who she thought was responsible for the issue, Elharrar, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, said she didn’t want to judge. “I just encountered a problem.”
“Instead of dealing with green energy, with collaborations between countries in order to fight the climate change, I promoted accessibility,” she continued.
“I’m not for apologies. I just want for the next time, nothing like that to happen.”
Johnson asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to invite Elharrar to join them in a meeting Tuesday. The UK leader personally apologized to Elharrar for the incident the previous day, according to a senior official with the Israeli delegation at COP.
Elharrar traveled to the COP venue in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s motorcade on Tuesday and accompanied him into the conference, the official said.
Bennett sharply criticized COP26 organizers for the access issue, and had threatened to cancel his appearance at the event Tuesday.
COP26 President Alok Sharma has repeatedly said that a fully inclusive conference was critical to the success of the climate conference.
CNN has reached out to the UK Prime Minister’s office for comment.
According to an official traveling with Bennett’s delegation to Scotland, Israeli officials spent two hours trying to get Elharrar into the COP venue Monday but “due to it not being fully wheelchair accessible, the efforts were unsuccessful and the Minister could not enter.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is not part of the delegation, tweeted, “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.”
Britain’s Ambassador in Tel Aviv, Neil Wigan, was quick to say sorry.
“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,” he tweeted.
The United Nations climate change body later apologized for “inconveniences associated with accessing the venue of COP26, both physically and virtually, in an email distributed to COP26 participants on Tuesday.
The UN Climate Change secretariat added that “COP26 is taking place under exceptional and unprecedented logistical circumstances” and that access to many spaces had to be reduced to comply with Covid-19 protocols in maintaining social distancing.
With over 38,000 registered attendees, social distancing at the conference has proven difficult.
An “unprecedented interest” in this particular COP, and the security arrangements of the World Leaders Summit, has “added to the many logistical pressures,” the statement continued to explain.
“In many ways, the first few days of the COP26 have been a learning process, with participants and staff getting used to the pandemic-related logistical measures and circumstances, and we are doing our utmost to continuously learn and adapt.”