DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — Undeterred by wars at home, delegations from Ukraine and the Palestinian territories are active at COP28, determined to call attention not only to the environmental threats facing their homelands but also to emphasize their places in the global community.
Ukraine, attending its second COP international conference, is using its pavilion in Dubai to highlight the extensive environmental damage caused by Russia’s invasion and propose preventive measures against ecocide on a global scale.
Ruslan Strilets, Ukraine’s minister of environmental protection and natural resources, told VOA that the delegation aims not only to showcase the environmental and climate consequences of the war, but also to unite and engage the international community in achieving justice and peace.
Ukraine is committed to fighting climate change, Strilets said.
“Despite the war, Ukraine is finalizing the development of its climate architecture and consistently fulfilling its climate commitments. At COP28, we plan to gather even more partners around our country for a greener future for Ukraine and the entire world,” he said.
The Ukraine pavilion’s exposition is organized into three key blocks. One block recounts a catastrophic explosion at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam in June, which flooded dozens of towns and villages and killed more than 50 people.
A second block illustrates Ukrainians’ efforts to swiftly rebuild what the war has destroyed, and the third block details the impact the war is having on the environment.
During a visit this week to the Ukrainian Pavilion, Moldova Energy Minister Victor Parlicov expressed his country’s endorsement of the COP28 Environmental Declaration and reiterated that Russia should be held responsible for the environmental harm resulting from the war.
Other visitors to the pavilion have included Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova and Keit Kasemets, first deputy minister of climate for Estonia.
In the Palestinian pavilion, Ahmed Abuthaher, director general of the West Bank-based Environment Quality Authority, told VOA his delegation is in Dubai “to tell people to look at us as humanitarians, and this conference is for human beings.”
“For climate change, we need to have easy access to the financial resources. We have water shortage and in some areas we have desertification,” he said, expressing hope for help from a Loss and Damage Fund announced on the first day of the conference.
A June 2022 report prepared by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that 78% of piped water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption.
According to the COP28 official webpage of their pavilion, the Palestinian leadership recognizes that collective efforts across sectors are crucial to the fulfillment of the conference’s climate commitments and ensuring a sustainable and resilient future.
Abuthaher emphasized the Palestinian commitment to participating in COP28 while calling for the global community to take meaningful action to address the issues faced by the Palestinian people.
The environmental damage inflicted by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been documented in several studies, including an October 2022 report from the U.N. Environment Program finding that almost 1 million hectares (3,800 square miles) of land have experienced significant impact, with 812 specific sites facing threats.
VOA reported in January that the repercussions of the war extend as far as Indian-administered Kashmir, where ornithologists have cited its contribution to a scarcity of migratory birds.
COP28 delegate Ievgeniia Kopytsia, an associate of Oxford Net Zero at the University of Oxford in the U.K., said the war is also increasing carbon emissions that are widely blamed for rising temperatures worldwide.
“On top of the local pollution caused by the warfare,” she told VOA, a significant amount of greenhouse gas has been emitted into the atmosphere “caused by the consumption of fuel for military purposes, use of munitions, fires caused by shelling, bombing and mine-laying operations, and reconstruction of the civilian infrastructure.”
In July 2022, during a head-of-states conference in Lugano, Switzerland, the Ukrainian government unveiled the initial version of its 10-year national recovery plan, outlining proposed recovery pathways for major sectors at an estimated cost of $750 billion.
Kopytsia said participation in events such as COP28 can help turn that vision into a reality.
“Engaging with the global community in climate initiatives may foster diplomatic relations and provide opportunities for assistance in conflict resolution,” she said.
The impact of conflict on the environment must be addressed not only in Ukraine and Gaza but around the world, argued Simon Chambers, the director of ACT Alliance, a global alliance of more than 145 churches and other organizations from over 120 countries that provides humanitarian aid for poor and marginalized people.
“Climate justice is possible to be achieved, as is a just transition” to cleaner sources of energy, he said to VOA, but it will require all parts of society to come together — governments, nongovernmental organizations and businesses.
“We need to put the needs of the creation, of people and the planet ahead of profit and power,” he said. “If we all act in the face of the urgency of the climate emergency, it is possible to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and to do so in a way that is just.”