(Berlin) – Governments and advocates attending UN climate talks in Bonn from June 5 to 15, 2023 should push for rights-respecting and ambitious climate action, Human Rights Watch said today.
To uphold their human rights obligations, governments should commit to a phaseout of all fossil fuels as an overarching agreement of the upcoming COP28 conference. They should assure that the United Arab Emirates, the host, will enable civil society to freely demand climate action before, during, and after the conference.
“The UAE COP28 host is a petrostate with a deeply repressive government that is aggressively expanding its fossil fuel industry,” said Richard Pearshouse, environment director at Human Rights Watch. “Bonn will be a watershed moment for all governments committed to achieving ambitious climate action to show that they are willing to stand up for phasing out fossil fuels and demanding civil society can meaningfully participate.”
The Bonn Climate Change conference will lay the groundwork for negotiations at the UN Conference of Parties (COP28) from November 30 to December 12. It increasingly appears that the UAE is seeking to use its position as host to burnish its image while continuing to push the expansion of fossil fuels, undermining efforts to confront the climate crisis and protect human rights, Human Rights Watch said.
Governments attending the conferences should live up to their human rights obligation to address climate change, including by calling for the equitable and rights-respecting phasing out of all fossil fuels in the COP28 conclusions, Human Rights Watch said. An explicit reference to all fossil fuels in the COP28 outcome document would be an important first in international climate negotiations.
The production and use of fossil fuels has caused widespread air pollution and an increase in global temperatures, which in turn drives sea level rise, wildfires, and increasingly frequent and more intense extreme weather. Harms linked to climate change, which will eventually affect everyone, already have a heavy impact on marginalized communities.
The UAE will host COP28 in Dubai despite the country’s draconian repression of peaceful dissent and laws that prohibit free association and assembly, and deny the right to privacy. The UAE is one of the world’s largest oil producers. Its vast fossil fuel industry is a key sector of the economy and provides the majority of the government’s revenue.
On January 12, the UAE appointed Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber as president of COP28. He is the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and founded the state-owned renewable energy company Masdar in 2006. Jaber will maintain his role at ADNOC while leading the COP28 conference. ADNOC is the government’s foremost fossil fuel company, and recently announced it was expanding all aspects of its operations, despite a growing consensus, including from the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that there cannot be new oil, gas, or coal development if governments are to meet global climate targets and protect human rights.
“Having the UAE as conference host places the issues of a fossil fuel phaseout and respect for human rights in the fight against climate change squarely on the COP28 agenda,” Pearshouse said. “Governments attending the Bonn preparatory meeting should call out the UAE for its repression of civil society and make it clear that they will actively confront any UAE attempts to water down a commitment to phase out fossil fuels.”
In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate science, confirmed that the world is warming at record levels, and warned that governments are failing to take sufficient action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The panel urged governments to cut emissions by phasing out fossil fuels, halting deforestation, and scaling up renewable energy.
Ambitious and rights-respecting climate action requires the full and meaningful participation of civil society, Human Rights Watch said. However, the UAE’s decades-long crackdown on freedom of expression, assembly, and association raises grave concerns about how independent members civil society, activists, human rights defenders, and journalists at COP28 will be able to participate meaningfully.
Independent Emirati groups have already expressed deep concern about the human rights crisis in the UAE, particularly the government’s targeting of human rights defenders and political dissidents, including renowned rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, ratification of repressive laws, and weaponization of the criminal justice system to crush civil society.
“Respect for civil society space and particularly the right to protest is crucial to effective climate action,” Pearshouse said. “The UAE should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for the exercise of their human rights, including Ahmed Mansoor, and others being held beyond their release dates.”