More climate mitigation experts and environmental champions from Palestine were supposed to attend the ongoing UN Climate Summit in Dubai, but sadly did not make it — some were unreachable due to communication problems; and some were believed to have been killed, a senior official from the state’s Environment Quality Authority said.

Speaking to Khaleej Times from the Palestine pavilion inside the UN-controlled Blue Zone of COP28 on Friday, Hadeel Ikhmais, head of Climate Change section at EQA (the central body for environmental issues in Palestine), said several climate resiliency projects, including UN-funded water treatment plants, were razed to the ground following the “relentless bombings of Gaza by Israel since October 7.”

“We were supposed to discuss our climate change mitigation and sustainable projects but we lost contact with many of our technical people on the ground,” added Ikhmais, who also recounted how she narrowly missed flying to Dubai for COP28 after gunfire hit her home during an Israeli raid.

Unimaginable catastrophe

One of the most significant environmental issues in Palestine is the lack of access to potable water, brought about by years of neglect and prolonged conflict that also led to detrimental impacts on economy and agriculture.

“And now the magnitude of the catastrophe is unimaginable. Almost every structure has been razed to the ground and all that we have achieved through years of strategic climate action were destroyed, including internationally-funded irrigation projects, water pumps, desalination and sanitation system, and other projects funded from GCF (Green Climate Fund),” Ikhmais added.

Palestine became a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2016. Ikhmais said they actively participated in last year’s COP in Egypt and noted – prior to the escalation of conflict on October 7 – preparations were already in place for international speakers, donors, representatives from the Palestinian private sector, civil society and the government to come to Dubai to join the climate summit.

“But we lost contact with many technical people on the ground. Now, the few of us who are here, what we are going to negotiate in the middle of a genocide?” said Ikhmais, explaining there is now a more immediate concern rather than discussing their NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) or climate action plan to cut emissions and adaption to climate impacts.

Ikhmais condemned the termination of ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, noting “things will only get worse in Gaza.”

Civil society calls for ceasefire

At the ongoing COP28 in Dubai, Ikhmais, however, saw a bright spot as she personally witnessed a global network of climate justice and human rights organisations calling for a permanent ceasefire and scaling up of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

“Over the last two days (COP28 opened on Thursday), many of these organisations have come to our pavilion to say that they support our call for immediate and permanent cessation of war. We highly appreciate their show of international solidarity with the Palestinian people,” said Ikhmais.

Bringing global attention to one of the world's long standing conflicts, which has claimed the lives of more than 15,000 Palestinians in less than two months, added a new dimension to the climate conference.

Lidy Nacpil, convenor of the COP28 Coalition composed of civil society organisations from 75 countries, earlier told Khaleej Times: “As human beings, how can we not speak out or stand in solidarity with the besieged people of Palestine? We believe a world conference like COP28 – where leaders of various countries are gathering – is one of best platforms to make sure the call for ceasefire and show of solidarity with the people of Palestine is heard.”

“The fight for climate justice is a fight for human rights and an end to systemic structures of racism, apartheid and colonialism,” underscored the Filipina activist.

Act now humanity

More climate activists attending COP28 have raised concern about the future of Palestinians as bombings in Gaza have resumed.

Chennaiah Poguri, spokesperson of Global People’s Caravan, a global South-led campaign of rural people’s movement for radical transformation of food systems, said they are "calling out Israel and US not only for their heavy carbon emissions – that are exempt from climate commitments – but also for war crimes against the people of Palestine.”

Poguri has added US into the equation as he noted their $4 billion annual military and defence aid to Israel “pales in comparison with their commitment for the environment.”

“It is utterly unacceptable for a rich country like the US to $4 billion for war but pledged only $17 million for the more important and historic loss and damage fund that was approve on day 1 of COP28,” said Poguri, adding: “The priorities are wrong – there is money for wars but no money for climate

He told Khaleej Times: “This gathering of world leaders at COP 28 should not be missed as an opportunity to demand an immediate end to the genocidal war on Palestine. We cannot stand by and claim to act for the future of humanity, while scores of women and children are being killed as we speak. Climate justice means upholding the rights of rural peoples who grow our food and safeguard the planet. Farming communities in the West Bank are being bombed, their olive trees being cut down, and their land grabbed by Israeli settlers.”

As for Ikhmais, she concluded: "Those attending COP28 have the opportunity to help us Palestinians call for an end to hostilities in Gaza. Parties and organisations can urge their respective governments to put pressure on Israel to make a permanent ceasefire. We want to protect not only our environment but more so, save human lives."

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