Activists demand end to fossil fuels at COP28 climate summit

By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) -Activists protested over the presence of the oil, gas and coal industry at the COP28 U.N. summit in Dubai on Tuesday, while demanding an end to the use of fossil fuels, which are the major source cause of climate change.

Several dozen activists called for “climate justice”, and carried banners that read “Just + Equitable, Fossil Fuel Phase Out, Stop Fueling the Fire” at the demonstrations, where participants were typically outnumbered by onlookers.

While past U.N. climate talks have sparked huge protest rallies, including 2021’s COP26 in Glasgow and 2015’s COP21 in Paris, this year’s demonstrations have been muted in host United Arab Emirates, where freedom of expression is limited.

The U.N. and UAE are allowing pre-approved protests to take place at the COP28 venue and there have been none so far outside the site. Activists taking part in COP28 demonstrations have said they feel stifled and have commented on a lack of presence from any grassroots, local civil society.

“We want to demand an end to all fossil fuels, including abated and unabated,” Zimbabwean activist Lorraine Chiponda, 37, told Reuters after speaking at one of the demonstrations.

Countries that produce or rely on fossil fuels have emphasised the potential use of technologies to “abate”, or capture, the emissions rather than ending the use of them.

Chiponda argued that language calling for the phase-out of “unabated” fossil fuels was merely a distraction that would allow for their continued use.

“We’re seeing a lot of greenwashing around the phase-out,” she said, expressing doubts that delegates would reach an agreement at the summit that would benefit the environment.

Colombian activist Andres Gomez, 47, travelled from South America to take part in COP28. He said the transition had to be “equitable” which meant big polluters acting first.

Governments at COP26 agreed to phase down the use of unabated coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels. This year, countries remain split on the future role of fossil fuels.

The hosting of the summit in the oil-producing UAE has drawn criticism, as has the country’s decision to name Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of state oil firm ADNOC, as COP28 president.

Jaber has made a point of including the fossil fuel industry at the summit, insisting that oil and gas companies should be part of discussions on tackling climate change.

Indigenous activist Thomas Joseph from California said he was worried that the fossil fuel industry was “leading the negotiations” towards a “business as usual” result.

Meanwhile, Filipino activist Jainno Congon, 24, said carbon capture technologies advocated by some were a “dangerous distraction” and a “fake solution” to tackle climate change.

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(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Katy Daigle, Miral Fahmy and Alexander Smith)