The world’s biggest climate change summit is getting more attention for what attendees are doing to accelerate global heating than to solve it.
COP28 in Dubai suffered a blow to its image under the presidency of Sultan al-Jaber, CEO of Emirati state oil company Adnoc, who the BBC reported was planning on using the summit to strike oil trade deals with foreign dignitaries – allegations al-Jaber has denied.
But the attendees at COP28 paint a larger picture of how the conference has become – according to some – more of a trade show than a climate action platform.
A record number of fossil fuel lobbyists are attending this year’s summit, according to an analysis by advocacy group Kick Big Polluters Out. At 2,456 people, that’s four times more lobbyists compared to last year’s summit in Egypt, which itself set a new record. Lobbyists also outnumber representatives of the indigenous communities most affected by climate change seven to one, which critics say shows that oil and gas industry profits are being favored over the wellbeing of these communities. For many activists and campaigners, COP is now simply an avenue for Big Oil to “greenwash their polluting businesses and foist dangerous distractions” instead of debating meaningful solutions, one activist told The Guardian.
COP28 will leave behind the largest carbon footprint in the climate conference’s history, in part due to the record number of attendees — at least 80,000. Many of the most high-profile visitors are traveling to the Dubai summit by private jet, including Britain’s King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, according to aviation news site Simply Flying. An Institute for Policy Studies report found that private jets produce at least 10 times more pollutants than commercial airplanes. Sunak has attempted to dismiss the controversy by agreeing to use sustainable aviation fuel to reach Dubai, but critics say that it is not yet a true green alternative to traditional jet fuel.
The UAE’s migrant population is at the sharp end of the climate crisis. At least 88% of the country’s population are low-wage immigrants from countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh that make negligible contributions to greenhouse gas production but are most at risk of natural disasters attributed to climate change, according to Human Rights Watch. Because of high remittance fees in the UAE, these migrants are often unable to support their families back home who are being internally displaced from flooding and other disasters. Many of these migrant workers worked directly on the infrastructure used for COP28, Human Rights Watch says, but were offered little protection to combat the desert heat. And while the Gulf heat will only intensify if governments do not work to phase out fossil fuels, companies like the UAE’s Adnoc continue to boost their production capacity.