Climate crowd pours into Dubai for COP28 environmental summit

UAE prepares to host thousands for U.N.’s annual conference on global warming, which will feature speeches by King Charles and more than 100 heads of state

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Environmental activists, energy industry leaders, investors and policymakers are making their way to Dubai by the thousands for tomorrow’s opening of COP28, this year’s edition of the annual United Nations climate change summit.

Hosted by UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, who is President of COP28 and head of both the UAE’s national oil producer and renewables company, the two-week event at Dubai’s Expo City is expected to draw a long roster of global leaders.

Among the key speakers will be Britain’s King Charles III, Ukraine President Vlodomyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron and Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Israeli President Isaac Herzog is scheduled to address the conference, but his presence is still a question mark because of security concerns stemming from the Gaza war.

The Vatican sent regrets for 87-year-old Pope Francis who is recovering from the flu and President Joe Biden has dispatched Vice President Kamala Harris in his stead after attending the past two summits in Egypt and Scotland. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are also likely no-shows.

More than 100 heads of state are slated to deliver three-minute speeches outlining their targets for phasing out fossil fuels and reaching net-zero carbon emissions. Negotiations on producing consensus goals from COP28 will also focus on the level of funding by wealthier countries to help the developing world battle climate change.

“The urgency of this mission cannot be overstated, for the window of opportunity to limit climate change by transitioning to a green global economy is rapidly closing,” Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, vice chairman of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy and CEO of the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority, said on Tuesday in an address to the World Green Economy Summit in Dubai.

The choice of Al Jaber as COP28 president has been controversial because of his position as leader of one of the world’s largest oil producers. Al Jaber has said his prominence in the oil industry is an advantage for the conference because he is uniquely positioned to coax fellow oil executives to adopt more sustainable practices, a point also made by White House climate envoy John Kerry and Michael Bloomberg, the publisher and former New York City mayor who was appointed the U.N.  Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions.

Criticism intensified this week with a report by the non-profit Centre for Climate Reporting that Al Jaber had briefing papers prepared for meetings with national leaders that indicated he was using his COP28 role to promote Adnoc’s interests. COP28 officials said the documents cited by the CCR were inaccurate and were not used in the meetings.

The conference will include compiling a detailed report card, or “stocktake” on progress made since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 in meeting the target of holding global warming to 1.5C from pre-industrial levels. The world is now on track to missing that goal and allowing global temperatures to rise by as much as 2.8C by the end of the century.

Israel has scaled back plans to take a prominent role at the summit in light of its seven-week war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Ambassador Gideon Behar, head of the Israeli delegation, told The Circuit. The deadly conflict has generated renewed animosity in the Arab world and amplified security concerns, he said.

Rather than the original plans in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to lead a delegation of cabinet ministers and government officials numbering in the hundreds, Israel will be represented by a team of roughly 25 officials

Preparations for some 30 climate-related startups to present their products at an Israeli pavilion were cut to four companies from the area outside Gaza – with displays of Israel’s climate innovation in areas such as water, agriculture, renewable energy and alternative proteins, said Behar, Israel’s Special Envoy for Climate Change and Sustainability. The pavilion will also include a section highlighting the nearly 160 Israeli hostages still being held by Hamas and calling for their release. Outside the official delegation, however, numerous Israeli environmental organizations and other interested groups will be sending representatives, he said.

“We are here because this is the most important gathering that deals with the most pressing issue on the international agenda today, which is the climate crisis question,” Behar said in an interview shortly after arriving in Dubai on Tuesday. “We have something to contribute. We are coming up with solutions.”

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