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Dubai Is a Crappy Place to Have a Climate Protest

Demonstrators at COP28 have found their options severely limited.

Protesters at COP28.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Political protests are a staple of COP summits. Thousands of climate activists descend on the event each year to call for stronger global commitments to building renewables and quitting fossil fuels.

But at COP28, United Arab Emirates laws restricting speech and banning most forms of public protest have constrained where and how people can speak out. Demonstrations are only permitted in areas managed by the UN, known as the “blue zone,” and have to be approved before they can take place.

“We have to say how loud we’re going to be, what’s going to be written on the banners. We’re not allowed to name countries and corporations. So it’s really a very sanitized space,” Lise Masson, an organizer at Friends of the Earth International, told the Associated Press last week.

Pre-approved rallies went on throughout last week. But as negotiations intensified over the weekend, the demonstrations did, too. Activists declared Saturday a day of protest, the AP said. A group of about 25 people called for the release of pro-democracy prisoners staged what Reuters called a “very rare” UAE protest, while 500 people urged a ceasefire in Gaza. That’s not to say those demonstrations were unrestrained, however. Pro-democracy protesters were not allowed to display detainees’ names, and ceasefire demonstrators were barred from naming Israel or Hamas.

Also on Saturday, a small number of climate activists staged a brief sit-in at OPEC’s pavilion after the oil cartel allegedly directed its members to reject any agreement involving phasing out fossil fuels, The New York Times reported. And as anger simmered over Monday’s watered-down global stocktake draft — which does not mention a fossil fuel phase-out — climate activists continued to chafe against the restrictions on their ability to protest during the summit’s final hours.

Ahead of the draft release, a line of silent activists held signs pushing countries to “hold the line” on the phaseout. One protester, however, refused to follow the pre-approved plan. Licypriya Kangujam, a 12-year-old climate activist from India, ran onto the stage after the “hold the line” protest on Monday, shouting and brandishing a sign that read, “End fossil fuel. Save our planet and our future.” Kangujam was detained and eventually removed from the summit, according to posts from her account on X.

Nicole Pollack profile image

Nicole Pollack

Nicole Pollack is a freelance environmental journalist who writes about energy, agriculture, and climate change. She is based in Northeast Ohio.


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