UAE PM2.5 ‘three times’ recommended limits as COP28 continues

The UN climate summit is currently underway in Dubai, while Human Rights Watch warns of the host nation’s ‘toxic’ air due to its domestic fossil fuel industry. 

city skyline under gray sky during daytime

Despite the worrisome conditions and their impact on public health, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) hard line stance on perceived dissent has made the situation a ‘dirty secret’ for the country.

Last week, as the world’s most important environmental conference opened, host city Dubai was shrouded in smog, offering a visual reminder of what is often an invisible problem. According to Human Rights Watch, the near-10million people living in UAE have been exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution between 2018 and 2023. Data was taken from satellite imagery captured over those years.

‘Even as the [UAE] government works to burnish its image as a global climate leader… the country’s vast fossil fuel production and use spew toxic pollutants into the air,’ the Human Rights Watch report stated. The analysis also contested official claims that the Arabian Peninsula’s biggest contributor to dirty air was desert dust, with 90% of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) found to result from human activity.

‘The obliteration of civil society by the UAE’s government means that no one can publicly express concerns, let alone criticise the government’s failure to prevent this harm,’ said Richard Pearshouse, Human Rights Watch’s Environmental Director. ‘Fossil fuels pollute the air people breathe in the UAE.’

Using readings from 30 UAE government monitoring stations in September, PM2.5 levels were said to be three times the maximum limit recommended by the World Health Organisation, which estimates more than 1,800 deaths in the country can be attributed to unsafe air quality each year. Those most at risk are economically disadvantaged, with uneducated migrant workers – already known to endure dire conditions – most susceptible.

Quoting one such employee, Human Rights Watch said the UAE could be compared to ‘a factory that produces patients. The workers return with disease. There are very few people who leave here with a healthy body.’

More on COP28: 

WHO hosts COP28 event on ‘unbearable heat and unbreathable air’

Local governments step up to end fossil fuels at COP28

Prototypes for Humanity: Ideas to save the world at COP28


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