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Navigating the fun side of summitry at Cop28

The Expo site was a good work environment – once you got your bearings

Cop28 delegates walk through Dubai's Expo City, possibly in search of Mr Toads Pub and Bar Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani
Cop28 delegates walk through Dubai's Expo City, possibly in search of Mr Toad's Pub and Bar

Time to confess: when I penned a column a couple of weeks ago, complaining about the challenging logistics and lack of facilities at Cop28, I was obviously suffering from aggravated exhaustion and first-day teething troubles.

As the fortnight wore on and I became more used to the sprawling site at Dubai’s Expo2020, I actually found it a rather agreeable place to work, progressively developing a social micro-culture all of its own.

Once I’d got into the swing of things, and learned to judge distances and timings, I found that Cop28 could be fun, amid all the serious negotiations.

A lot of the action took place in or around the Cop28 HQ by the Al Wasl Plaza, which was a good place to hang around.

It was there that King Charles of the UK held a cocktail bash on the opening weekend, invites to which became much in demand.

It was there too that the US climate envoy John Kerry celebrated his 80th birthday just as negotiations were reaching fever pitch in the run-up to a historic agreement on the global stocktake.

Inexplicably, my invitations to both events must have got lost in the post, so instead I put that time to good effect searching out the best watering holes.

The nearby Rove hotel was a good place to rendezvous, not too far from the Media Centre and on the way to the Green Zone. Packed to the rafters in the first week, it became much more civilised as the event went on. Buffet lunch at AED120 was enough to keep you going all day – and well into the night if necessary.

My regular itinerary took me from the Media Centre, through the imposing Al Wasl Plaza to the Saudi Pavilion on the edge of the Blue Zone, past the Green Zone entrance to the Saudi Green Initiative site, and on to the Climate Finance Hub.

This round trip was nearly four kilometers, so the urgent need was for a staging post somewhere along the route, and after a couple of days of footslogging, I found it.

Mr Toad’s Pub and Bar was a convenient spot for a welcome bit of R&R. One afternoon in particular was spent there meeting up with journalists, energy officials and people from the banking industry. Most enjoyable.

Toad’s ticked box number one of Cop28 logistics: get contacts to come to you, wherever possible. Very few turned down an invitation to restore themselves at Toad’s.

Rather more off the beaten track but “worth the detour” (as the Michelin guides say) was the Reform Social and Grill.

A short buggy ride (but a longish walk) away in the Sustainability district, the Reform is an offshoot of the venue in Dubai’s Lakes residential district, which has become something of an institution, renowned for hearty roasts and televised football.

The Expo version is still finding its feet, but the food, drinks and service was of a similar high standard to the Lakes. I’m sure it will be a roaring success among the 2,000 or so employees of Siemens Energy who have made Expo their permanent home in the Middle East.

As the evening drew on, the nature of the crowd at Cop28 changed too. Fewer suits, even fewer grass skirts, but many more couples and family groups just taking in the spectacle. 

It was not until the final days that I uncovered the jewel in the crown: the Talhan restaurant in what had been the Turkmenistan pavilion at Expo2020.

A few journalists in the Media Centre had muttered about “the Turkmeni place” like it was some kind of El Dorado for good food and drink.

When I eventually found it, on the day that the “UAE consensus” was being prepared behind closed doors in the plenary meetings, its outdoor dining area was absolutely buzzing.

Little groups of comradely media types, NGOs and energy company executives were huddled at tables around the statues of prancing horses, locked in conversations about the Cop28 outcome, with the words “phase”, “transition” and “fossil fuel” much bandied about.

I decided to phase out beer that evening, transitioning instead to a very acceptable red wine, and took on some much-needed fuel in the form of a delicious chicken plov, with not a fossil in sight.

Fortified, it was plain sailing back to the Metro, guided of course by the North Star.

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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