The UAE’s skills at uniting countries with disparate interests, and rallying industry and society around it, will be on full display at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference. As the world gears up for this pivotal summit, expectations are high for the host country’s diplomacy and drapery to advance the commitment, negotiations and innovations that are crucial in the global fight against climate change, and a sustainable future.
Like other emerging countries, the UAE straddles the political and economic divisions of this multipolar age, but unlike many, it has one of the most open economies and most inclusive societies in the world, and it is showcasing these advantages.
“Work began a year ago, and our teams have been building up momentum and gaining much traction on the COP process,” Ambassador Majid Al-Suwaidi, Director General of the COP28 UAE Presidency, says. This year’s summit is breaking ground on several fronts – greater participation from women and Indigenous people; youth advocacy; historic papal presence; and an urgent call for climate finance reform, the latter which makes Ambassador Suwaidi zealous.
Scaling climate finance
Over the past months, the COP28 Presidency has been urging for speed and scale of climate finance for the vulnerable, concessional finance for developing countries, and building a future-proof climate finance architecture. “We need extensive reforms of the international financial infrastructure. We expect powerful outcomes, but must be able to pay for all these actions,” he says, explaining the high stakes involved.
In the wake of numerous natural disasters worsened by climate change, public, scientific and advocacy groups are pressing for more aggressive climate action. “Our Presidency understands that addressing this requires a holistic, multi-faceted approach, and we are all stakeholders for this,” he says.
COP28 will mark a milestone in assessing progress on the Paris Agreement of COP21 which mobilised action to limit global temperature increase to 1.5C. As the first comprehensive assessment since, the inaugural Global Stocktake will make it a strategic point for countries to reassess and ramp up Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and plan initiatives for the future.
Society at the centre of discourse
“Women, youth, and indigenous people are vital in shaping a sustainable future, and the discourse on climate action,” says Hana Al Hashimi, UAE’s Chief Climate Negotiator at COP 28, reprising her role from the last summit held at Sharm El Sheikh. The UAE’s thrust on these societal pillars can be seen in COP28’s thematic programming which unites women, youth, and frontline communities around specific solutions to limit warming, build resilience, and mobilise finance.
“Women are active agents of change who are essential to any discussion on the future, and the UAE is no newcomer to this principle or practice,” she says, citing the efforts of the first president and founding father of the UAE, Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who emphasised women as equals, from as early as the 1970s.
Highlighting how COP28 is putting nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of global climate action, she advocates participation from the marginalised. “We have real opportunities to build the future we want, and this must be grounded in inclusivity,” says Hashimi who is also the UAE’s Climate Change Special Envoy, and has led numerous eco-initiatives at the United Nations and the UAE Prime Minister’s Office. Calling herself a multilateralist, she points with pride to her team of negotiators who comprise two thirds women and two thirds youth.
Mobilising the youth
“The UAE’s leadership has always included young people as key constituents, and we took this legacy to the COP process,” explains Ambassador Suwaidi. “We are putting youth at the heart of the conversation and reversing their earlier roles on the sidelines, and we have an able Youth Climate Champion in Shamma Al Mazrui,” he says, referring to the UAE Minister of Community Development. Al Mazrui, who became the world’s youngest government minister in 2016, and heads the UAE’s efforts to amplify youth-led action within the COP process.
Towards achieving this, the COP28 Presidency selected 100 delegates for the International Youth Climate Delegate Programme embedded within the COP process, and prioritised it with representation from Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and minority groups. The delegates have been provided with full funding to attend COP28, and capacity-building to establish a model example for the future. “This is the world’s biggest initiative to increase youth participation in the climate negotiation processes,” Hashimi underlines.
Buoying these efforts, the UAE Ministry of Education (MoE) has announced the imminent launch of a unique hub at COP28 to highlight the critical importance of education in addressing climate issues. Confirming more than 250 sessions to unite leaders with children and educators, Dr Ahmad Al Falasi, Minister of Education said, “This is a leap forward in placing education at the centre of climate action, after almost three decades of fragmentation.”
Dr. Falasi believes the Greening Education Hub, a collaboration with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the UAE’s emphasis on schools as eco-champions will inspire the world. “We are confident Greening Education Hub will leave a legacy that other nations will benefit from in upcoming COPs,” he said at the launch on Thursday. Concurrently, MoE will launch a national cross-curriculum framework to set standards for sustainable schools across the nation.
Ambassador Suwaidi leads young teams who bring many talents to the COP28 table, and his enviable experience in diplomacy, negotiation, and climate advocacy places him at its head. “This was a different but interesting opportunity for me to represent my country,” says the career diplomat about experiences leading up the event. “Visiting a refugee camp and participating in the interfaith dialogues as part of the pre-COP process were defining moments,” he says of the work the UAE has put in. “And now, it is the first time COP will be visited by a pope.”
Mary Molly Malyil, a British citizen who studied in India and now lives in the UAE, believes women can solve most of the world’s problems. “Women are creators, nurturers and transformers – whether they are working with a child, a seed, or a village,” says the avid espouser of women’s rights and plurality. “Women don’t need to find their voice, they only need a forum to be heard and I am delighted to see this come alive at COP28.” A frequent traveller with many business interests, she has realigned her plans to attend sessions on women’s participation in sustainable development and empowering girl innovators.
Daania Anjum Rangari is worried about polar bears, emissions, and winter holidays with her family. “Global warming is scary – for humans, animals, and habitats,” says the International School of Creative Science student who is passionate about recycling and fundraising for charity.
“We are worried now, but there is no age limit and no time limit on action.” The 12-year-old believes the UAE excels at whatever it does: “Our country is doing a lot to ensure that COP28 addresses children’s concerns
All about COP28
Three decades since the launch of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP) takes place every year. The world’s only decisive forum on climate change has near-complete membership from every country, and COP 28 is the edition hosted by the UAE, taking place in Dubai at the Expo grounds until December 12, 2023.
As the world unites to agree on ways to address the climate crisis, more than 70,000 international delegates are expected to attend COP28, including heads and representatives of UNFCCC member states, business leaders, climate scientists, sustainability experts, and non-governmental organisations.
Climate change is a major challenge of the world and there is neither a single government, organisation or corporation that can tackle it alone, nor a single route to success. The UAE is trying to ensure that COP28 is impactful on all fronts, including mitigation, adaptation, finance, and loss and damage. While previous iterations have united governments in action, COP 28 also brings in other stakeholders that were hitherto on the periphery. “The goal is to unite everyone,” says Hana Al Hashimi. “The power of the UAE lies in building bridges.”
The first Global Stocktake (GST) will help align efforts on climate action, and COP28 UAE is urging the world to respond with clear actions plan. Other goals include fast-tracking energy transition, fixing climate finance, focusing on marginalised people, and fostering inclusivity.
Blue Zone, the UN-organised part of the conference for accredited delegates is the venue of World Climate Action Summit, and formal negotiations across two weeks. The UAE manages the Green Zone, a space open to public that will showcase solutions from industry, civil society and the global community.
The UAE nurtures an inclusive, truly diverse civil society, and this is a key COP 28 message. Ambassador Suwaidi asks businesses to use living examples to incorporate DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) into the UAE’s workplaces. “We have almost 200 nationalities coexisting peacefully, and our leadership champions initiatives to benefit all parts of business and community. Apply this example to your own organisations,” he advises.