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UAE to allow climate activists to assemble at COP28 amid ban on unauthorized protests

DUBAI (AFP) — The United Arab Emirates said Tuesday it would allow environmental activists to “assemble peacefully” at this year’s UN climate talks, despite a prohibition on unauthorized protests in the Gulf state.

The oil-rich UAE, set to host COP28 from November to December in the business hub of Dubai, requires official permission for protests but effectively bans demonstrations it deems disruptive.

At the upcoming UN climate talks “there will be space available for climate activists to assemble peacefully and make their voices heard,” it said.

The announcement was made in a joint statement with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released on Tuesday and published by the UAE’s official WAM news agency.

The statement was released after COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber and UNFCCC chief Simon Stiell signed a bilateral agreement in Abu Dhabi that provides the legal basis for organizing and hosting the climate talks.

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“We are firmly committed to ensuring that UN values are upheld at COPs,” the statement quoted Stiell as saying.

Tuesday’s announcement was welcomed by campaign group Climate Action Network International which commended “the COP28 Presidency for their dedicated efforts towards fostering an inclusive climate summit.”

The sun sets behind the Sheikh Zayed Highway towers, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, June 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

But it warned that it would “resist any attempts to curtail [civil society] participation,” according to Harjeet Singh, its head of global political strategy.

“Our unwavering conviction is clear: there can be no climate justice without human rights,” Singh told AFP.

‘Rights record’

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, which warn that the involvement of a major oil exporter could slow progress in the fight against global warming.

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.

“Civil society actors will struggle to effectively play their role in pushing for ambitious action to address the climate crisis in a country whose government has such an abysmal human rights record,” HRW warned in a March report.

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

A man passes in front of the Dubai Frame in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, June 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

The COP27 Egypt host faced criticism over restrictions that made for a tight protest space, where activists had to request accreditation 36 hours in advance and provide detailed information on the organizers and on the protest.

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

It was a far cry from COP26 in Glasgow, where tens of thousands of demonstrators from all over the world marched to demand “climate justice.”