Cop28 kicks off in Dubai next week: Who’s going and who’s not?

It’s less than two weeks until Cop28, the biggest event on the climate calendar, and RSVPs are rolling in, with a few notable exceptions.

This year’s conference in Dubai, the tourism hotspot of the United Arab Emirates, is expected to draw 70,000 people to the city’s Expo Centre.

Heads of state or prime ministers from 167 countries have RSVPed, with most expected to attend the World Leaders Summit, which kicks off the two-week event on 1-2 December. Leaders from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, India, Japan, Brazil, Iran and Saudi Arabia are among those who will deliver statements on their nations’ climate commitments.

Leaders from Israel and the State of Palestine will deliver remarks as brutal conflict continues in the region. Since the 7 October Hamas attack, 1,200 Israelis have been killed and 240 people taken hostage. More than 11,000 people have been killed in besieged Gaza, the UN reports, including thousands of children.

One of the most controversial attendees will be Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has visited the UAE twice in the past year. The presence of Mr Assad, who presided over a brutal and ongoing civil war and has committed countless war crimes against his own people, has outraged human rights campaigners. Last week, France issued an arrest warrant for the Syrian dictator over the alleged use of banned chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, CNN reported.

The Cop28 climate summit is being held in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates from 30 November - 12 December (REUTERS)
The Cop28 climate summit is being held in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates from 30 November - 12 December (REUTERS)

Fellow pariah, President Vladimir Putin, is not expected in Dubai. He has barely left Russia since invading Ukraine in 2022, and a subsequent international war crimes warrant was issued for him. Russian state-run media reported earlier this year that Mr Putin said Russia would be represented at a “decent level” at Cop28.

Ukraine has confirmed its attendance at the climate summit. The Independent has asked the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs if President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will make the journey to Dubai but received no immediate response.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is slated to attend despite his recent U-turns on the UK’s net-zero plans. That’s not the only roll-back that Britain brings into this Cop – Mr Sunak will be accompanied by the new Foreign Secretary, and former PM, David Cameron.

It is not clear whether President Joe Biden will travel to Cop28 and the White House did not respond to an email when asked by The Independent. Similarly, no information has been forthcoming on President Xi Jinping of China.

However, the two superpowers’ meeting in California last week has provided a note of optimism heading into the summit after Mr Biden and Mr Xi agreed to push efforts to cut emissions, particularly of the powerful, short-term warming gas, methane. The US and China’s climate envoys, John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, long-time counterparts who have kept climate talks ticking over amid bilateral tensions on other issues, are expected in Dubai.

The US also intends to send a Senate delegation to take part in an event on 10 December but who precisely is attending remains unclear. The Senate press office did not immediately respond to an email seeking information from The Independent.

Beyond the political sphere, Britain’s King Charles is playing a key role and will travel to Dubai to deliver the opening address on 1 December.

Pope Francis is attending the summit, the first time that the leader of the Catholic church will address a UN climate conference. Francis has made repeated appeals for global climate action, particularly for protection of the most vulnerable, and called out fossil fuel companies over their outsized responsibilities.

Dubai’s glitz and five-star resorts are likely to attract a bevy of climate-interested celebrities to the conference. In past years, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba, Matt Damon, Stella McCartney and Ellie Goulding have attended.

While hundreds of climate activists and campaign groups will be on the ground, the fossil fuel industry will also be out in force at the event in the oil-rich nation. Hundreds of oil and gas delegates are expected at Cop28 however unlike in previous years, the UN has said they must declare their affiliations making their reason for attending much more transparent.