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Climate Action Under Occupation: Palestine at COP28

In the midst of ongoing atrocities, Palestine faces not only the immediate threats of violence and missile attacks but also the compounding challenges of climate vulnerability. Situated in the Mediterranean region, Palestine has witnessed a significant rise in temperatures and diminishing access to fresh water, rendering it one of the most climate-affected states. A United Nations study reveals that over 25% of child morbidity cases in Palestine stem from water-borne diseases.

The entrance to Palestine’s pavilion at COP28 in Dubai. [Photo: Naveena Sadasivam/Grist]
The pavilion representing Palestine at COP28 in Dubai. (Photo: Naveena Sadasivam/Grist)

As the Israeli siege rages on, the 28th annual United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) convened in Dubai to address climate-related disasters. Despite being a critical international forum, there are concerns about its effectiveness and relevance. Notably, COP28 has become an international reunion for lobbyists, where over 2,500 major oil and fossil fuel companies and polluters gathered this year. Astonishingly, fossil fuel lobbyists at COP28 outnumber official Indigenous representatives by seven to one (316), surpassing every country's delegation apart from Brazil (3,081) and the COP28 hosts, the UAE (4,409), a petrostate. Their numbers exceed the combined delegates from the 10 most climate-vulnerable countries, including Somalia, Solomon Islands, and Sudan.

While COP draws attention on social media and features various speakers and panels, this stark contrast in representation raises questions about the conference's ability to address the urgent climate crisis effectively. The disparity in the numbers underscores the challenges in balancing diverse interests and prioritizing the voices of those most affected by climate change.

Hadeel Ikhmais.
Hadeel Ikhmais. (Photo: AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)

Within the multitude of discussions and panels at COP28, there is a recurring theme that often receives insufficient attention: the intersection of war and climate. Several world leaders seized the COP28 platform to express concern about the continuous Israeli bombardment of Gaza, emphasizing the urgent need for a comprehensive ceasefire.

During a conversation with UN Goodwill Ambassador Dia Mirza, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underscored that the consequences of rapidly changing climate are predominantly felt in Global South countries. Notably, the impacts of phenomena like melting glaciers and rising sea levels present imminent threats to coastal regions, including various areas in Palestine.

The 'Collective Innovation to Fight Climate Change' initiative highlights three crucial repercussions of warfare that significantly contribute to the climate crisis. These encompass heightened fossil fuel consumption by military forces, the adverse impact of bombings and violence on biodiversity and environmental integrity, and the widespread contamination, potentially leading to long-lasting poisoning of air, water, and soil due to the common presence of heavy metals and harmful chemicals in munitions. 

Israel has faced serious allegations of employing white phosphorus in Gaza and Lebanon.
Israel has faced serious allegations of employing white phosphorus in Gaza and Lebanon. (Photo: Al Jazeera/Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Gaza is currently grappling with a pressing environmental concern: the air is saturated with toxic chemicals such as carbon dioxide and heavy metals like alumina. This alarming situation heightens the imminent threat of acid rain, which, when coupled with the scarcity of fresh water, poses a significant danger to human health. Adding to these challenges is the projected 4℃ temperature increase in Palestine by the end of the century, as highlighted by Al Jazeera. This temperature rise not only intensifies the environmental issues but also amplifies existing struggles related to resource scarcity, particularly in terms of food and fresh water. The ongoing conflict further complicates and exacerbates these matters, creating a complex web of challenges that demand urgent attention and comprehensive solutions.

The severity of the crisis is starkly highlighted by a grim revelation from the UN Food Programme in November 2023: the Gaza Strip is now grappling with less than 10% of its pre-war food supply. This distressing reality has triggered a sharp rise in cases of malnutrition, starvation, and water-borne diseases among the Palestinian population. The heightened susceptibility of Palestinians to climate-related hazards is exacerbated by intentional restrictions on access to essential resources and territorial lands.  

Already confronting shortages of fresh water, the siege, which limited the entry of vital resources, coupled with the bombings and other attacks, has led to the infiltration of sewage water and waste into Gaza's primary aquifer. This has resulted in a staggering 97% of the region's limited water becoming unfit for human consumption, as reported by Abeer Butmeh, Coordinator of the Palestinian Environmental NGOs network.

The heightened strain on resources in Palestine, highlighted by the concept of 'green colonialism' discussed by Marwan Bishara for Al Jazeera, reveals a multifaceted dynamic intertwining Palestinian liberation and climate justice. Israel's consistent interventions in the region, often framed as environmental conservation efforts, exemplify the appropriation of environmentalism to displace communities and assert control over land. This tactic, known as 'green colonialism,' is marked by the establishment of 'green zones' that, paradoxically, lead to the displacement of Indigenous communities, land seizures, and the expansion of the apartheid regime's structures on Palestinian soil.  

The confluence of the Palestinian struggle and climate justice becomes more palpable when considering the looming climate disaster in the region. Israel's meteorological studies indicate that the Eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine, is one of the most climate-vulnerable areas globally. Average temperatures in Israel/Palestine have risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius between 1950 and 2017, surpassing the global average, with a forecasted increase of 4°C by the century's end. This climatic vulnerability compounds pre-existing challenges associated with resource scarcity, further exacerbated by the ongoing conflict.  

Activists advocating for climate action demonstrate in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Activists advocating for climate action demonstrate in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo: Reuters/ Thaier Al Sudani)

Israel's routine attempts to confiscate Palestinian lands under the pretext of "environmental conservation" aligning with the strategy of 'green colonialism,' reveal a calculated effort to displace the Indigenous population and exploit resources. The movement for climate justice, echoing support from numerous environmental organizations globally, not only advocates for climate change mitigation but also calls for fundamental shifts in social structures that perpetuate the crisis, addressing issues of social equality, distributive justice, and control of natural resources, as evident in the Palestinian struggle.

Before the eruption of the conflict, the State of Palestine had initiated efforts to implement climate action strategies, including the establishment of large-scale solar plants, wastewater facilities, and the installation of rooftop solar panels on privately owned properties. A survey conducted by The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) revealed that Gaza boasted the highest density of rooftop solar installations globally. Despite their resilience to weather and malfunctions, these installations proved exceedingly vulnerable to destruction during the war. The initial bombings led to the destruction of both the solar plant and the wastewater facilities.  

Palestine, already grappling with heightened susceptibility to drought due to reduced rainfall, further faced the consequences of the industrialized world's insufficient consideration for climate issues. Despite having minimal major industries and a limited capacity for electricity production, Palestine has emitted significantly fewer carbon emissions compared to other global economies. The war not only jeopardized the strides made in climate action but also underscored the disproportionate impact of conflicts on regions that have contributed minimally to environmental degradation.

Amidst the ongoing crisis, Palestinian authorities successfully dispatched representatives to the COP28 conference in Dubai, receiving a reception from activists and supporters advocating for an immediate ceasefire. Among the Palestinian delegates was Hadeel Ikhmais, a member of the Environment Quality Authority in Palestine and a climate expert from the West Bank. In an interview with Mongabay-India, Ikhmais reaffirmed Palestine's unwavering commitment to climate mitigation despite the adversities of war. However, she also underlined the destruction of numerous initiatives and projects aimed at addressing climate change.  

COP28 served as a crucial platform for Palestinian representatives to illuminate the challenges faced in fulfilling climate action commitments. Notably, it marked the first Conference of the Parties where the State of Palestine had its own Pavilion, providing visitors with insights into the country's climate change mitigation efforts and commitments. While emphasizing the commitment to climate action, Ikhmais acknowledged the need to rebuild and reinvent adaptation and mitigation strategies, particularly in the Gaza Strip.  

Expressing determination, Ikhmais highlighted, "We consider this a challenge, not something to stop us from implementing our projects. We have to restart, reinvent adaptation and mitigation action in the Gaza Strip." The Palestinian representatives at COP28 took the opportunity to advocate for increased funding to address the consequences of the climate crisis under occupation and war. Their call echoed the need to restart climate mitigation projects and adapt to the evolving challenges posed by the ongoing conflict.

As the conflict in Palestine persists and the region grapples with the repercussions of climate change, there is a pressing need for a systemic shift in the global approach to addressing such crises. Initiatives like COP28 were initially conceived with the aim of devising solutions to mitigate climate change and fostering collaborative efforts to assist nations facing heightened risks of climate-related disasters. However, over time, the credibility, relevance, and effectiveness of such platforms have waned, prompting a critical examination of whether merely discussing problems leads to effective solutions.  

Concerns have been voiced regarding the perceived lack of accountability, tangible action, and support extended to countries in the Global South, which are more susceptible to climate risks. Moving forward, there is a global call for a reevaluation of the objectives and implementation of these conferences, advocating for more stringent measures to be taken to protect vulnerable states like Palestine. Additionally, there is a growing demand for decisive action against the considerable presence of oil and fossil fuel lobbyists at these conferences, reflecting a broader desire for a more impactful and accountable global response to climate crises.



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Keywords: Palestine, COP28, Climate Vulnerability, Green Colonialism, War and Climate, Environmental Justice, Climate Action, Occupation, Indigenous Representation, Resource Scarcity, Gaza Strip, COP Effectiveness, Climate Mitigation, Green Zones, Global South Climate Risks


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