'We need to change the world': Delegates bring can-do spirit

Participants tell UN climate summit of the need to adapt as the planet changes

A delegate at the first day of Cop28 at Expo City Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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Let’s talk about the terms of debate at Cop28 as the summit opens in Dubai. Early delegates were using the dozens of pavilions on the Expo City site to do just that on Thursday.

Roman Sidortsov, an academic at the True North pavilion, warned his audience not to bandy around terms without fully understanding what the concepts mean.

“The terms climate justice, environmental justice and energy justice are used interchangeably, they are used without context and used without proper grounding,” he said. “I’ve started getting concerned about this term 'justice' as it applies to all things and is now claiming to be another gospel.”

At another stand, a group of young Emirati professionals were discussing the powerful effect of climate change and the importance of exploring its impact.

Documentary maker Abdullah Abudaik talked about his work raising awareness. “This topic is one that people want to avoid. Some people are really not sure it could be happening,” he said.

“It is very important to find new ways to make people pay attention. We adapted as the world needs to adapt with climate change. We are all learning because we are all new to this, especially this generation.”

'Smile at each other, we need to change the world'

A Tongan delegate on the Dubai Metro was heading to Expo City having spent a full day in travelling. “Smile at each other, we need to change the world at Cop28 and we can’t do that without talking to each other,” he told the carriage.

Juan David Amaya, a 16-year-old climate activist from Villavicencio, Colombia, who was wearing a Cop28 credential badge that said “observer”, was hoping for progress on adaptation, funding for measures such as flood defences and drought-resistant crops for life on a warmer planet.

“I started when I was 13, mobilising my community against the palm industry,” he said.

“The climate crisis is causing so many humanitarian problems,” he added. “I really want to see outcomes for adaptation at Cop28.”

Just before a minute's silence at the summit's opening focused delegates' minds on Gaza, the conflict was highlighted by campaigners in another part of the complex.

At one of the press conference stages, Asad Rehman of War on Want made a plea for Gazans as the temporary truce puts the conflict on ice to secure the swap of hostages and prisoners.

Cop28 begins at Expo City Dubai – in pictures

“We say to those who call for a pause, you pause a song, you pause a video game, you pause Netflix,” he said.

He was joined in his pleas by Rania Harrara of the Mena Feminist Task Force.

“We still have people miles away from us who don’t have basic human rights,” said Ms Harrara. “People who don’t have access to clean water, to clean air and food resources. Gazans have very intermittent access to water – just 20 litres per day.”

The pavilions offer countries and groups an opportunity to showcase their contributions to the climate fight.

“The climate agenda, the environment agenda, biodiversity, nature,” declared one guest at the China pavilion's opening. “All of these critical issues that China faces, the globe faces and we need to work together to ensure the world tackles this problem.”

For a leading member of the architectural firm that designed the Expo site, the tenets of sustainability are being realised by it hosting the UN-backed Cop (Conference of the Parties) climate change forum.

Daniel Hajjar, head of architects for HOK in London and the Middle East, told The National that the venue had been designed for repurposing after Expo 2020. “It was one of the first Expos that kept most of its event spaces to repurpose into just this sort of space. Expos previously, even Shanghai, pulled everything down.”

“Three of our previous principals actually wrote the first textbook to teach individuals about sustainable design – it's always been a fundamental tenet for the firm,” he said.

“It's driven most of our work and now it's probably becoming more and more important to us, including adaptive reuse of the existing fabric. I think Dubai does this very well.”

Updated: December 01, 2023, 9:02 AM