COP28: Leaders must protect human rights

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Leaders at COP28 must protect human rights by agreeing to phase out fossil fuels and press the UAE for reforms


8 December 2023

COP28 is the United Nations annual climate conference that is currently taking place in Dubai. Hundreds of representatives from countries and organisations around the globe are coming together to address climate change. The human rights record of United Arab Emirates (UAE), the host nation, will also be under the spotlight.

“At this time of extreme turmoil, with our thoughts on responding effectively to people’s sufferings in Gaza and Israel, Sudan and too many other parts of the world, it might be tempting to delay dealing with the climate crisis. This would be wrong. Inaction, when our climate is heating at an unprecedented rate and the rights of billions of people are at stake, is not an option,” said Agnès Callamard (Secretary General, Amnesty International).

“Leaders at COP28 must defy the fossil fuel lobbyists and steer us away from a deepening climate and human rights catastrophe. The only sure way to avert this calamity is for states at COP28 to agree on rapidly ending the production and use of fossil fuels, helping those worst affected by climate change to recover from loss and damage, and accelerating a just transition to renewable energy.”
Agnès Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International.

Climate change and human rights

Everyone has the right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. As the climate crisis intensifies, this right is under growing threat.

Climate change worsens droughts, damages harvests and leads to food scarcity and rising food costs, and after decades of steady decline, world hunger has risen again. This scarcity increases resource competition and can cause displacement, migration, and conflict, leading to other human rights harms.

It is often already vulnerable communities such as subsistence farmers, Indigenous peoples, and those living in low lying island states faced with rising sea levels and more powerful storms, who bear the brunt of climate change and whose rights to health, life, food, and education are most often compromised.

The urgent need to phase out fossil fuels

A fossil fuel free future is essential to humanity’s survival. Continuing to exploit oil, fossil gas or coal will further warm our overheating world, causing more devastation and suffering.

All untapped fossil fuels must stay in the ground forever with action needed to make an equitable transition to sustainable sources of energy. COP28 must also reaffirm its commitment to try and limit the global temperature rise this century to 1.5°C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Currently, the world’s climate is on course to be at least 2.8°C warmer by 2100.

Many countries are investing in expanding renewable energy but far more is required for a transition which provides access to sustainable energy for all. Public financing for renewable energy, making polluters pay, and mandatory electrification are policy approaches that can have measurable impacts on emissions.

Concerns over fossil fuel lobbying

Amnesty International is concerned that the fossil fuel industry, which delivers enormous wealth to relatively few people, will try to stifle meaningful progress at COP28. The summit’s president Sultan Al Jaber, also heads ADNOC, the UAE’s state oil company, heightening concerns that COP28 has been captured by fossil fuel interests before it has even begun. He should resign from his role with ADNOC, which is a brazen conflict of interests and undermines the summit’s credibility.

The fossil fuel industry and many states want business as usual and are aiming to greenwash us into falsely believing that unproven technical solutions with the potential to cause environmental damage, such as carbon capture and storage, are the answer to global warming.

Many of the largest oil and gas companies, with the support of governments around the world, plan to expand production, on the premise that these unproven solutions will magic away the problem sometime in the future. This must be resisted. Governments are obligated to commit to meaningful action to protect our human rights, not ill-conceived strategies to protect profits for the wealthy few who benefit most from the fossil fuel industry.

Human rights and the UAE

Also, the UAE’s dismal human rights record threatens a successful summit. A pledge to allow “voices to be heard” at COP28 is inadequate and serves to highlight the UAE’s normally restrictive human rights environment and the severe limits it places on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The closure of civic space, and the possibility of digital espionage and surveillance are concerns. COP must be a forum where the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest are upheld and civil society, Indigenous peoples, frontline communities and groups affected by climate change, can participate openly and without fear. Emiratis and people of all nationalities must be able to freely criticize states, rulers, corporations and policies, including those of the UAE, so they can help shape policy without intimidation.


COP28 runs from 30 November to 12 December and brings together more than 190 states and parties to address the climate crisis. Agnès Callamard will be at COP28 from 1 to 6 December as part of an Amnesty International delegation which will be present throughout the event.