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COP28, Interfaith Solidarity and the Continued Call for Meaningful Climate Action

Dubai, a city synonymous with opulence, ambition, and grandeur, played host to the crucial COP28 summit. As I walked through the Expo Center, memories of a bygone era in 2005 flooded my mind. I remember the moments of excitement and anticipation that randomly happened during my busy work days leading up to my first trip to Dubai that year to attend a film festival for work. The thought of the hotel—which had canals for roadways, and gondolas that drifted you from your villa to the world-class spas, or elegant shops and restaurants—elicited sighs. This would be the quintessential ‘work-cation’.   

Back then, Dubai's architectural wonders and glamorous lifestyle seemed immune to the concerns of greenhouse emissions and climate change. Little did I know that years later, the very essence of Dubai's prosperity, the fossil fuel industry, would become a focal point of sacrifice for the sake of humanity's survival.

At the heart of the summit for the visiting leaders of the Christian Climate Observers Program (CCOP) was a unique interfaith forum opportunity. Faith leaders, including Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah and retired Presbyterian minister and Climate Witness Project member, Rich Killmer, gathered to discuss the unity needed to address the challenges we face. Shaykh Bin Bayyah spoke passionately about the human actions that breed corruption, emphasizing the shared responsibility expressed in various faith traditions.

The urgency of phasing out harmful practices clashed with economic interests, posing a dilemma for the global community.

We continued our journey of interfaith solidarity as it relates to the climate crisis and embarked on a tour of The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque located in Abu Dhabi. The mosque, a symbol of faith and Islamic values, served as a cultural touchpoint aimed at fostering unity in the face of dire climate realities. The legacy of Sheikh Zayed, visible on the glistening horizon, symbolized a commitment to environmental stewardship and responsibility. But would this be manifested in tangible ways in 2024 and beyond, now that much will be required of fossil fuel-producing countries (the UAE, a leading country in this area) to secure a livable future for all?

This wondering stayed with me as the Loss and Damages Fund conversation took center stage. UN negotiators grappled with the language around the $1.5 billion goal, sensing it as both a cap and a wall that may inhibit progress in negotiations. The urgency of phasing out harmful practices clashed with economic interests, posing a dilemma for the global community.

In the discussions, activists and participants in ‘side events’ made poignant calls for collaboration that echoed through the Expo Center. Some conversations about slavery were had with advocates urging the acknowledgment of past wrongs and some commitments to rectify them. Representatives from the Church of Sweden highlighted the need to address gender concerns directly, emphasizing the broader responsibility of nations to provide resources for adaptation.

An estimated 20% of CCOP attendees who were living in Old Dubai and far from the glamor of the resort side experienced sinus congestion and respiratory distress

The next day, I attended events that talked about natural carbon sequestration—a crucial aspect of climate action. A ‘side event’ panel (side events happen throughout the two-week conference to educate attendees about the latest technologies and movements to combat climate change) underscored the continued scientific research under the banner of climate action. This panel, featuring experts from Wales, Kenya, and California, explained the importance of healthy soil in ecosystem restoration. It was led by the Southern California Climate Center’s Baani Behniwal, their Natural Sequestration Initiative Manager. Dr. Leigh Ann Winowiecki also facilitated an intriguing discussion about the growing scientific research in charting microcosms of carbon sequestration, offering signs of hope.

Also present was Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, who emphasized the need for collaboration and farmer-led solutions, illustrating the state's commitment to nature-based solutions. A call for collaboration resonated through the Expo Center, urging attendees to join the movement toward sustainable agriculture and soil conservation.

Amidst the discussions, the pollution and congestion in Dubai during COP28 could not be ignored. An estimated 20% of CCOP attendees who were living in Old Dubai, and far from the glamor of the resort side I remembered decades ago, experienced sinus congestion and respiratory distress, emphasizing the tangible impact of environmental pollution on human health.

As COP28 wrapped up, the UAE's attempts to transition away from fossil fuels became a metaphorical sacrifice for the greater good that has yet to be materialized. The urgency of climate action paints a vivid picture of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Prosperity built on fossil fuels must now give way to a sustainable future, and the global community must unite to make this vision a reality. In all this, there’s still hope, because as people of faith we are never without hope.

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