Dec 8, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Dubai dispatch: Smog blankets COP28 climate summit

Smog in Dubai.

Photo: Niala Boodhoo/Axios

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — After five days in Dubai for the UN COP28 climate talks, my throat hurts and I can't stop coughing, writes Axios "1 Big Thing" podcast host Niala Boodhoo.

Driving the news: Axios Publisher Nick Johnston said his lungs felt like they were on fire. Other colleagues felt similarly — complaining of lungs hurting or heartburn.

  • At first, we thought it was jet lag or allergies — then we realized it was likely from the air pollution here.

What they're saying: The United Arab Emirates' official line is that the pollution is caused by sandstorms from the desert.

  • But former Vice President Al Gore, who spoke to Axios in Dubai earlier this week, had a different take: "Have you been breathing the air here today? It was 12x higher than the W.H.O. minimum standards for healthy air. Three days ago, was 14x. Yesterday was 11x."

The big picture: Human Rights Watch in a report released on Monday attributes air pollution to the country's "vast fossil fuel production" that "spew toxic pollutants into the air."

  • Methane flares dot parts of Dubai (we can see them from our kitchen window in the Marina district).
  • HRW also pointed out that those in the UAE wanting to report on or speak out about the risks of fossil fuel expansion and its links to air pollution face risks of "unlawful surveillance, arrest, detention and ill-treatment."

Our thought bubble via Senior Climate Reporter Andrew Freedman: It's not just fossil fuel production sources.

  • Particles known as particulate matter 2.5, also referred to as pm 2.5, are the air pollution source that poses the greatest danger to public health. They are also emitted by industrial facilities, cars and trucks (there's a lot of traffic here), and other sources.

Follow Andrew on X and Niala on Instagram for more of our COP28 coverage from Dubai. Also, check the latest episode on our new podcast, "1 big thing," which has a special focus on climate.

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