top of page
  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

COP28 in Dubai: Why is it Controversial?

Written by Nandhinii Balajikannan for the Environmental Law Section.

Following on from our previous article on greenwashing, this article very briefly highlights the significance of COP28 being held in Dubai and what that may implicate. What about Dubai makes COP28 controversial?

COP28, the 28th United Nations meeting on climate change, a conference of world leaders (including the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak[1]) for the discussion of the future of climatechange, has been described as 'the most vital summit yet'[2].


Annually, the Conference attracts much attention from significant commentators globally. This year, in addition to the numerous significant topics on the agenda, the conference has attracted attention due to the controversy of it being held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.


This raises questions such as why such a controversy arises, and how the controversy affects the attainment of the objectives of COP28.


The Controversy

 As Harlan describes, ‘in the nation hosting this year’s global climate talks, the definition of what it means to be green comes with some caveats’[3]. Such caveats arise from the fact that the UAE  is one of the world’s major producers of oil, whilst fossil fuels remain a major threat to the environment, due to their contribution to climate change[4].


Whilst Greta Thunberg calls this ‘completely ridiculous’[5], the President of COP28, who happens to be the CEO of ADNOC, the UAE’s national oil and gas company, believes it is important to take an inclusive approach to tackling climate change and that ‘[n]ot having oil and gas and high-emitting industries on the same table is not the right thing to do’[6].


This controversy, of COP28 being held in Dubai, could mean several things for the attainment of the objectives of COP28 itself.

Impact on The Objectives of COP28

The stated vision of COP 28 is to focus on four ‘paradigm shifts’: energy transition and slashing emissions, finance, people and livelihood, and inclusivity[7].


These objectives follow from the Paris Agreement, the overarching goal of which is to limit ‘the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’ and ‘to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.’[8]


As a result of COP28 being held in the UAE, concerns have risen over the attainment of such objectives. This is not only due to the UAE being a major oil producer, but also due to ADNOC’s plans to expand production capacity[9].


Amnesty International has described the UAE’s efforts as aiming to ‘stifle debate at COP28’ and as appearing ‘to be greenwashing its fossil fuel expansion plans and massaging its own reputation’[10]. Moreover, the appointment of Jaber as the President of COP28 initially led to a call by 130 US and EU legislators for his removal[11].


Jaber remains the President of COP28. Despite his claims of promoting inclusivity and the UAE’s promise to allow climate protests at COP28[12], Amnesty’s allegations that the UAE’s attempts to stifle debate cannot be dismissed due to the stark contrast between the aims of COP28 and the interests of Jaber and the UAE.


[1] Oliver Slow, ‘Rishi Sunak: Cars, boilers and net zero - key takeaways from PM’s speech’ BBC News (London, 20 September 2023) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[2] Ellie Bury, ‘Six months to COP28: will the most vital summit yet make meaningful progress?’ The Guardian (London, 30 May 2023) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[3] Chico Harlan, ‘The many contrasts of oil-rich UAE, host of the global climate talks’ The Washington Post (Abu Dhabi, 21 November 2023) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[4] Mark Poynting, ‘What is COP28 in Dubai and why is it important?’ BBC News (Dubai, 1 November 2023) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[5] Fiona Harvey, ‘Greta Thunberg: not phasing out fossil fuels is ‘death sentence for world’s poor’ The Guardian (London, 13 June 2023) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[6] Fiona Harvey, ‘”I wasn’t the obvious choice”: meet the oil man tasked with saving the planet’ The Guardian (London, 7 October 2023) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[7] ‘Letter to Parties’ (COP28) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[8] ‘The Paris Agreement’ (UNFCC) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[9] Navin Khadka, ‘COP28: Why has an oil boss been chosen to head climate summit’ BBC News (London, 13 January 2023) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[10] ‘UAE’s efforts to stifle debate at COP28 threaten meaningful measures to tackle the climate crisis and protect human rights’  (Amnesty International) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[11] The Editorial Board, ‘Time is running out for the UAE to save its COP28’ Financial Times (Abu Dhabi, 14 June 2023) <> accessed 23 November 2023.

[12] ‘UAE promises to allow climate protests at COP28’ Al Jazeera (Abu Dhabi, 1 August 2023) <> accessed 23 November 2023.


20 views0 comments


bottom of page