Cop28 will have the biggest carbon footprint in the event’s history after UAE invited a record 400,000 people to attend
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COP28 will have the biggest carbon footprint in the event’s history due to the large number of attendees flying in, experts have warned.

Some 400,000 people are expected to travel to Dubai between November 30 and December 12 for the UN’s annual Climate Change Conference. 

This includes 97,000 registered as official delegates with access to the security-protected inner ‘Blue Zone’ for accredited government figures and companies.

The number of registered delegates has soared from 49,704 at COP27 last year in Egypt and 38,457 in Scotland in 2021. In sum, attendance has tripled since 2019.

Glasgow‘s conference set a record for emissions, pumping out some 102,500 tons of carbon dioxide – roughly what 8,000 Brits produce in a year.

But with so many flocking to the UAE this month, some expect COP28 to build on a worrying new trend. 

Richard Black, senior associate of the green Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank told The Telegraph: ‘Given the number of people expected here, yes this probably will have the highest carbon footprint to date.’ 

This includes 97,000 registered as official delegates with access to the security-protected inner 'Blue Zone'. Pictured: world leaders and delegates walk at Dubai's Expo City, Dec 1

This includes 97,000 registered as official delegates with access to the security-protected inner ‘Blue Zone’. Pictured: world leaders and delegates walk at Dubai’s Expo City, Dec 1

King Charles III (C) speaks with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani (R) as they pose for a photo during the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023

King Charles III (C) speaks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani (R) as they pose for a photo during the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023

A general view at UNFCCC COP28 Climate Conference at Expo City Dubai on December 1

A general view at UNFCCC COP28 Climate Conference at Expo City Dubai on December 1

The conference, intended for governments to agree on policies to limit and manage environmental impact, has become steadily more popular over the years, attracting government officials, companies and delegates from far and wide.

When COP began in the mid-1990s, its attendance averaged just 5,000, according to Bloomberg. This year, the whole event is expected to attract 80 times that.

That accounts for the wider Green Zone, open to all, and the inner Blue Zone, protected and reserved for ‘officials’.

The outer Green Zone is a space for paying organisations to show off what they are doing about climate change and meet potential customers. The Green Zones are not officially tacked onto the COP programme but run as a regular extension.

The Blue Zone invites countries, territories and their representatives to negotiate over climate change agreements and actions inside. Each region receives its own pavilion to put on exhibitions, receptions and presentations, and can host a number of delegates.

The worry is that COPs have expanded to such an extent that the conferences themselves may now be contributing to large and unnecessary emissions spikes. In Glasgow, it was expected that about 60 per cent of summit emissions came from international flights.

The conferences also risk growing their own carbon footprint by finding housing for so many delegates over the two-week period, policing the event and transporting people in and out of the venues.

Climate campaigners expressed outrage this week as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed he would be flying to the summit in his own private plane, as Foreign Secretary David Cameron and King Charles also made their own way in by jet.

Downing Street defended the decision after critics warned the move ‘sent all the wrong signals’ about the UK’s commitments to tackling climate change.

No 10 said it was important for Britain to have a ‘strong attendance’ at the summit and said the government’s position wasn’t ‘anti-flying’.

A spokesperson said on Wednesday: ‘I think the Government’s approach to tackling climate change has been set out repeatedly, it’s not about banning or reducing people from flying, it’s for investing in new technologies of the future as evidenced by the flight just yesterday using sustainable aviation fuel.

‘Obviously, you would expect most ministers travelling to Cop to fly commercially. The PM’s plane will be using sustainable aviation fuel, which some of you will be on. And obviously we are using carbon offsetting as well.’ 

‘Obviously the Prime Minister uses the planes that you’re all well accustomed to. But as I say, it’s in line with the Government’s position that we are not anti-flying. We do not seek to restrict the public in doing so. And it’s important that the UK has a strong attendance at Cop28, given we continue to be world-leading in tackling climate change.’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) joins world leaders in proceeding on foot to the World Climate Action Summit in Dubai, during the Cop28 summit. Picture date: Friday December 1, 2023

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) joins world leaders in proceeding on foot to the World Climate Action Summit in Dubai, during the Cop28 summit. Picture date: Friday December 1, 2023

King Charles III and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak attend the opening ceremony of the World Climate Action Summit during COP28 on December 1, 2023 in Dubai

King Charles III and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak attend the opening ceremony of the World Climate Action Summit during COP28 on December 1, 2023 in Dubai

Leaders posing during a photo session at the UN Climate Change Conference COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, earlier today

Leaders posing during a photo session at the UN Climate Change Conference COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, earlier today

Tory MP Graham Stuart, the Minister of State for Climate, will lead Britain’s delegation to COP28 this year.

Stuart has urged Britain to focus on ‘phasing down, phasing out’ the ‘unabated’ use of fossil fuels – while stressing that there was ‘nothing fundamentally wrong with oil and gas’ in November. 

Britain has, in recent weeks, doubled down on domestic production of fossil fuels, last month mandating annual licencing rounds for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer meanwhile will be taking a commercial flight to COP28 this year, meeting a ‘range of leaders’ and ‘banging the drum to Britain’. 

The party faces ongoing criticism over reported plans to cut its £28bn ‘green prosperity plan’.

Late in November the party was accused of being ‘in total disarray’ after then being forced to deny reports that it was virtually abandoning its flagship plan.

Tory MP Paul Bristow told The Mail on Sunday last week: ‘No wonder Sir Keir is known as Sir Flip Flop.

‘First, he had a crazy plan to borrow £28 billion a year, then it was watered down, then there was a plan to back off even further, only for Labour to say it’s all OK. They’re in total disarray.’ 

Even Labour MPs voiced concern, with one saying: ‘It just gives the impression that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.’



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