COP28 Green Zone lures crowds to learn, eat, pray – and shop

Attendance for this year’s edition of the U.N. climate meeting is booming at the Dubai Expo site that was built to absorb multitudes

Courtesy photo

Stella McCartney

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Record crowds are attending COP28 in Dubai thanks to a dedicated area open to the public that is part trade show, installation art, food fest and community meeting all in one – with a dash of Stella McCartney.  

The so-called Green Zone at the legacy site of Dubai Expo 2020 has over 400,000 registered day-pass holders during the 10-day period, in addition to 88,000 who are accredited to go behind the velvet ropes and enter the Blue Zone – where the tense climate negotiations are being held.  

Organizers tick off several reasons for COP’s explosive popularity this year, starting with growing global climate concern, Dubai’s position as a global tourism hub, the Expo site’s expansive size and good transportation to reach it.

And then there’s Stella. The British designer and daughter of 81-year-old ex-Beatle Paul McCartney has become an icon for the environmental movement, unafraid to take on her own industry.

“Fashion is known to be one of the most polluting industries on the planet and at present it is not policed at all,” McCartney told The Circuit. Apparel-makers are responsible for 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of global wastewater – using more energy than the aviation and shipping sectors combined, she said. When she attended COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, McCartney generated headlines by accusing the fashion industry of “getting away with murder.”

This time, her onsite boutique showcases highlights from the recent McCartney collection, which boasts environmentally friendly materials used to create garments and accessories. Made from grape-stems, a new vegan leather called Vegea features prominently in McCartney’s creations, promoted jointly with LVMH-owned luxury brand Veuve Clicquot.

Also pumping up the numbers at COP28 are hordes of international policymakers and corporate executives.Many nations have sent delegations of 500 or more.  About 1,000 people each have come from China and Nigeria, with 3,000 from Brazil. The Emirati delegation is the largest at 4,000.

Visitors to the Green Zone can book a pass online. COP28 features a sprawling, leafy campus with dozens of pavilions for people to explore interactive exhibits, art installations, film screenings and talks about breakthrough climate innovations. Over 600 events are planned through the end of the summit on Dec. 12.

Unique to this year’s COP, are several places for reflection and prayer. Inside the Energy Hub is an installation titled “Tree of Life.” Inspired by the Ghaf, the national tree of the United Arab Emirates, the large-scale AI-powered installation encourages visitors to stand by its trunk and make a climate pledge.

The first-ever Faith Pavilion, inaugurated by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayebin a video message earlier this week, is a space for prayer and meditation. The pavilion is also a place for pastors, imams, rabbis and other religious leaders to share a faith approach to climate change.

The Green Zone offers  dozens of food options with flavors from around the world to fuel the climate negotiators and day-passers. Pop-up restaurants at COP28 have put together  two-course menus composed largely of vegan or vegetarian dishes that are meant to be eaten and paid for in 30 minutes or less. 

An African food-hall concept called “Alkebulan” from James Beard-winning chef Alexander Smalls presents a revolving line-up of African chefs cooking. Assembly Mezze & Skewers near Al Wasl Plaza is serving up Middle Eastern cuisine while Baofriend offers Chinese buns with a variety of fillings such as  eggplant tempura. Blu Matcha in the Sunrise Food Park is serving matcha beverages in a unique hue and Emirati chef Faisal Nasser is selling winter comfort food with his new food truck TOS:T at the central Al Wasl Dome. 

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