The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai has seen rising tensions and controversies around protests, free speech, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With the summit hosted in the United Arab Emirates’ restricted environment, activism and dissent have proven challenging.
Calls for Ceasefire Met with Silencing
On the conference’s opening days, a peaceful protest occurred within the summit grounds calling for a ceasefire to end clashes in Gaza. COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber stated that “climate change and conflict are interconnected” and dialogue is key, but some accused organizers of using his speech to silence protest.
Palestinian activist groups have since claimed that their voices are facing heavy restrictions and policing around even discussing the Gaza conflict. Some see COP28 as continuing long-running issues around Palestinian underrepresentation in climate negotiations.
Rare Public Protest Staged in Dubai
In a rare public demonstration within the autocratic UAE, a small group of activists staged a political protest within the conference pushing for climate justice. Protesters held signs with slogans like “No climate justice without human rights.”
The UAE arrested and deported three activists last week who were planning a protest to highlight restricted speech, according to lawyers. Demonstrations are rarely allowed in the Emirates, making COP28 a unique chance to advocate for change.
Youth Activists Face Barriers and Scrutiny
Young climate advocates have accused organizers of silencing their voices and limiting their participation, including restricting attendee badges conferring access to negotiations. 26 youth activists were also briefly detained and questioned by Dubai Police after a planned protest last week. They were reportedly told not to protest without a permit.
Some youth leaders have claimed that COP28’s stated goals around inclusion of marginalized voices seem hypocritical given on-the-ground restrictions. But officials maintain that the conference has brought good collaboration between youth and world leaders.
Continued Calls To End Fossil Fuels and Transition Globally
Throughout the summit, activists have maintained demands for nations to commit to phasing out fossil fuels and making an equitable global transition to renewable energy. Some staging protests have accused wealthy nations of failing to deliver climate financing and green technology to poor and developing countries bearing the brunt of climate change.
There are worries that COP28 debates are being overshadowed by Middle East tensions and that negotiations are not focusing enough on critical issues like emissions cuts. Attendees have an uphill battle in the conference’s second week to make substantial progress. But COP President Al Jaber maintains optimism that impactful climate solutions will emerge before the summit concludes.
|Week 1 Key Events
|Opening Speeches and Gaza Ceasefire Protest
|COP28 president called for climate-conflict dialogue amid protest calling for Israel-Hamas ceasefire
|Detention and Deportation of Activists
|UAE authorities arrested activists planning free speech protest
|Brief Detention of Youth Protesters
|26 youth activists questioned after protest attempt
|Ongoing Calls To Phase Out Fossil Fuels
|Protest banners call for transition away from coal, oil and gas
What To Watch As Negotiations Continue
In light of tensions around protests and activism, key issues to track in COP28’s second week include:
- Will countries substantially increase commitments on emissions reductions before 2030?
- What new climate finance pledges will wealthy nations commit towards developing world?
- To what extent will calls for renewable energy transition be addressed?
- How much progress will occur on establishing loss and damage funding for climate impacts?
- Will final negotiations end up overshadowed by Middle East tensions?
With restrictions limiting demonstrations, advocacy at COP28 will likely need to mainly occur through direct lobbying and negotiation. Analysts say that while protests symbolically raise public awareness, the most meaningful outcomes depend on closed-door diplomacy between country delegates.
It remains to be seen whether the summit can focus world governments onto decisive climate action, or if talks will become distracted by this year’s background tensions. Either way, the path ahead for accelerating climate solutions faces substantial political headwinds.
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