UAE promises to allow climate protests at COP28

Official permission is required for protests in the Gulf nation, which is hosting UN climate talks this year.

The United Arab Emirates has said it will allow environmental activists to “make their voices heard” and peacefully assemble at this year’s UN climate talks.

The announcement was made in a joint statement with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) published on Tuesday.

“In line with UNFCCC guidelines and adherence to international human rights norms and principles, there will be space available for climate activists to assemble peacefully and make their voices heard,” the statement said.

In the oil-rich Gulf nation, which is set to host COP28 from November to December in the business hub of Dubai, official permission is required for demonstrations but effectively bans protests the authorities consider disruptive.

The joint statement was released after UNFCCC chief Simon Stiell and COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber signed a bilateral agreement that provides the legal basis for organising and hosting the climate talks.

“To drive climate action and ambition forward, we are firmly committed to ensuring that UN values are upheld at COPs,” Stiell said.

“We are also making every effort on our part to ensure that this will be a COP process where the voices of youth, women, local communities, Indigenous Peoples, and those most impacted by climate change will be heard and reflected within the process.”

Controversial choice
The UAE is a major oil producer and one of the world’s largest emitters of CO2 per capita.

The choice for it to host COP28 has sparked criticism from environmental groups who warn that the involvement of an oil exporter could slow progress in the fight against global warming.

The nomination of Al-Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co, to preside over the talks triggered a wave of criticism from activists who warned of a conflict of interest.

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Al-Jaber has also faced criticism for failing to address the need to phase out the use of fossil fuels, instead focusing on efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

In June, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that countries must start phasing out oil, gas and coal.

“The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It’s fossil fuels – period,” Guterres told reporters.

Non-government groups including Human Rights Watch have also warned that the Gulf state’s restrictions on freedom of expression could hinder the meaningful participation of climate activists.

In May, a joint statement from dozens of human and environmental rights groups raised questions about the choice to host the conference in the UAE, saying they feared “severe restrictions imposed by the UAE authorities in recent years will hinder the full and meaningful participation of journalists, activists, human rights defenders, civil society, youth groups, and indigenous peoples’ representatives at COP28.”

Large protests have been common at most previous COPs, and limited rallies were allowed at the last UN climate talks in Egypt, where authorities have regularly cracked down on demonstrations and detained activists.

In Egypt, approved demonstrations were only allowed during certain hours, and in a specific purpose-built area that saw heavy security presence.

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