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Heat, thirst and famine: lessons from Day 1 of Cop28

Dubai's Expo 2020 site pulled it off on opening day, despite some logistical challenges

World leaders walk down Al Wasl avenue after their group photo on the first day of Cop28 at Expo City in Dubai Cop28/Neville Hopwood
World leaders walk down Al Wasl avenue after their group photo on the first day of Cop28 at Expo City in Dubai

After the protester-dominated chaos of Cop26 in Glasgow, and the logistical nightmare that was Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, I was rather pleased to hear that Cop28 would be held at the Expo 2020 site in Dubai.

To have the whole massive event in one place, with Blue and Green Zones nestling side-by-side rather than bus rides apart, seemed like a distinct organisational achievement.

What I had forgotten was the sheer scale of the Expo venue, and the challenge of getting 70,000 people in, watered and fed in a tight timeframe on a muggy Dubai day.

The UAE just about pulled it off on the first day of the biggest ever climate change summit, but it was a close-run thing – and an exhausting experience.

Logo, Text

When I finally boarded the Metro to go home (by far the most practical way to travel to Cop) at 9pm, the little activity circles on my exercise app had whizzed around three times, and I had walked nearly 15 kms.

Lesson number 1: Take the Metro. I made the mistake of being seduced by an Uber driver who said I would be at my destination in 20 minutes from the Marina area where I live. No way. 

Once you got there, access through security was pretty trouble-free, but if you wanted to take in the main plenary area where all the big set pieces were staged and also attend events on the edges of the Green Zone – where all the fun activities like Climate Finance and the Saudi pavilion were concentrated – it was a 20 minute walk there and back across the no-man’s land of Blue-Green Zone checkpoints.

The Green Zone, by the way, is for non-governmental and commercial organisations; the Blue Zone, administered by the United Nations, is for policy-makers, negotiators – and journalists. 

Lesson number 2: Find a spot near the Blue Zone action early in the day, and get people to come to you.

There were some Expo taxis – little yellow golf buggies – but by no means sufficient for the hordes of wilting Scandinavian eco-types begging for a lift.

On the other hand, there were lots of white buggies for “people of determination” (as the UAE thoughtfully refers to the those with physical disadvantage) but the drivers were very strict in their selection criteria.

My desperate appeals that I qualified for a ride on grounds of age were met with a laugh of disbelief, which I suppose was a compliment but didn’t get me a lift.

Lesson number 3: For Cop, practice walking with a limp, or wear a fake ankle strapping.

My chosen place of work for the afternoon was the Media Centre, a cavernous aircraft-hanger of a building well situated for Metro and plenary halls.

It was well-equipped with decent Wi-fi, plenty of workspace seating and some rather comfortable armchairs, so I shouldn’t gripe too much, but …

The main media room reminded me of nothing so much as a battery hen factory. Hordes of hacks were pecking away at their laptops, while title-dedicated cubicles at the far end were reminiscent of US prison death row shots in Hollywood movies.

They were all there in their little huts: the FT, New York Times, Washington Post, as well as some more esoteric titles – We Don’t Have Time, Internews Earth Journalism, and LetMeBreathe. The full Cop media spectrum.

However, the Media Centre faced a challenge on some basic essentials, like food and water. One small café served as the main outlet for sustenance, where outraged hacks were asked to pay for their lunch! 

Lesson number 4: Bring your own victuals unless you want to end up scavenging leftovers from the better-provided tables in the VIP plenary area.

The main whinge of the assembled press, however, was the distance you had to walk to attend press conferences and interviews further out in the Expo site.

One gloomy hack directed a request to the Cop28 comms department: “I’d like to interview the genius who put the Media Centre in Dubai and the press conference room in Sharjah.” 

At the end of the day, as I stumbled exhausted through the grass skirts and headdresses of the indigenous peoples’ delegations towards the Metro, with only a croissant and a bag of crisps inside me all day, I could only agree with the words delivered earlier from the plenary podium by Cop28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber:

“The next two weeks will not be easy.”

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He also acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia

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