Campaigners denounce the tough rules stifling voices of protest at Cop28

By Amanda Morrow - RFI
Europe  RFI Amanda Morrow
DEC 8, 2023 LISTEN
© RFI Amanda Morrow

Record numbers of people are at the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai – now in its second week. Seeking to be heard in the throng of 84,000 participants are activists who say their protest space is diminishing every year.  

"We have to get permission to hold a 30-minute protest," says Lise Masson of Friends of the Earth International.

She's been to six UN Cop summits, but says the rules this year are tougher than ever – even though activists are now outnumbered by fossil fuel lobbyists.

"We have to explain what our banners are going to say, how loud we are going to be, how many people are going to be there ... We're not allowed to name countries or corporations," Masson told RFI.

"It's a very sanitised protest space."

Limited access

The UAE has tight laws governing protests in general, but the Blue Zone of the summit – being held in the city's vast Expo 2020 exhibition centre – is considered international territory.

Here climate activists are hoping their voices will be loud enough to permeate through the noise of the negotiations, press conferences and side events taking place in the cluster of surrounding pavilions.

At last year's Cop in Sharm el-Sheikh the pavilions were spread out in an open plan setting that invited interaction and connection. In Dubai they're tucked inside cubed buildings connected by narrow passageways.

Masson says the activists are limited in the spaces to which they are allowed access while being prevented from joining many of the negotiations.

"We're frustrated because it is really important that as a climate justice movement we are able to be heard, she adds.

'Inclusive' Cop?

In a joint statement in the lead-up to Cop28, the Emirati hosts and the UNFCCC, which is in charge of climate summits, promised an “inclusive” conference with peaceful assembly around a "variety of topics".

But demonstrators say the number of issues that may be addressed on any one day, and the number of people actually allowed to participate, is restricted.

"Recent research by the Kick Big Polluters Out campaign has shown that there are over 2,400 fossil fuel lobbyists roaming the halls of this conference centre," says Masson.

"That's more than any other year ... and we're seeing the impact this is having on the outcome of the negotiations."

She'd like to see a fairer balance in the spaces that are given to activists compared to those of big polluters.

"We are seeing the red carpet being rolled out for them while we are pushed into a small corner and asked not to be too loud or too strong."