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Cop28: Activists gather outside UAE's London embassy to protest climate conference

Human rights defenders cite abuses, lack of freedoms and contribution to climate crisis as reasons conference should be stripped from United Arab Emirates
Activists gather outside the UAE's embassy in London (MEE/Martha Harrison)
Activists gather outside the UAE's embassy in London (MEE/Martha Harrison)
By Martha Harrison in London

Human rights activists came together in London on Monday to protest against the decision to hold the Cop28 climate conference in the United Arab Emirates

The event organised by ALQST, which monitors human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries, took place outside the UAE's embassy and was attended by activists from FairSquare, Amnesty International, PEN International and the MENA Solidarity Network.  

"Having the world climate conference happen in a country that contributes majorly to the climate crisis is just a farce. It renders the event farcical," Julia Legner, executive director of ALQST, told Middle  East Eye. 

There are concerns that the petrostate's own economic interests will inhibit it from making any real progress in the fight against climate change.

In a speech given at the protest, James Lynch, founding co-director of FairSquare rights group, said: "The UAE autocracy is funded and fuelled by fossil fuels, so there is an inextricable link between fossil fuels and the  autocracy of the UAE. The UAE will fight to keep fossil fuel on the  agenda, to preserve its own power." 

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In a widely criticised move, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, the CEO of the UAE's national oil company, Adnoc, has been appointed president of this year's summit. 

He has been outspoken about the need to phase out emissions from oil and gas production, but has not committed to phasing out the UAE's production and use - something criticised by Amnesty International

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Experts at Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific project, have concluded that the UAE’s plan for an increase in fossil fuel production and consumption is inconsistent with limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the overarching goal of the 2016 Paris Agreement.

Monday’s protest not only focused on the UAE's climate policies, but also its poor human rights record.  

The event started by marking the two-year anniversary of Alaa al-Siddiq's death in a road accident. She was ALQST's former executive director and a prominent Emirati human rights defender. 

Her father, Mohammed al-Siddiq, remains detained in the UAE despite his prison term having expired in April 2022. He was convicted as part of a 2013 trial dubbed the “UAE 94”, which saw 94 lawmakers, professors, activists and students who had petitioned for democratic reforms tried for plotting to overthrow the government.

The event then ended with the handing over of a petition to the embassy in support of prisoners of conscience still being held in the UAE.

'The UAE is going to make Egypt look almost pluralistic in the way that the Cop runs'

- James Lynch, FairSquare

Speakers at the protest expressed fears that the UAE's restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly will prevent the free participation of civil society in the conference, threatening its success.

Lynch said this Cop conference comes at “a really pressing moment in the fight against climate change”, and needs to be directed by a presidency that “is trusted, and that is genuine in its intentions to ensure a real dialogue”.

“But what we have instead is a Cop presidency that has proved itself, as a state, closed off to perspectives that it doesn't agree with," he added.

Lynch told MEE: “Anyone who has tried to dissent has either been put in prison, or forced to go into exile, or has seen what the red lines are and has completely stopped any even mild criticism of the state.”

Reflecting on Cop27, held last year in Egypt amid a brutal government crackdown on dissent, he added: "The UAE is going to make Egypt look almost pluralistic in the way that the Cop runs."

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