Dubai, Dec 4 (EFE).- The fossil fuel industry in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), host of the COP28 climate conference, contributes to toxic air pollution that has a devastating impact on health, the nonprofit Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Monday.
While the UAE government positions itself as a global leader on climate and health issues, “the alarmingly high air pollution levels” pose major health risks for its citizens and contribute to the global climate crisis, the rights group said.
In a report titled “You Can Smell Petrol in the Air: UAE Fossil Fuels Feed Toxic Pollution,” HRW said, “air pollution and climate change are directly linked, as the burning of fossil fuels contributes to air pollution and drives climate change.”
HRW environment director Richard Pearshouse said that “fossil fuels pollute the air people breathe in the UAE,” and the “obliteration of civil society by UAE’s government means that no one can publicly express concerns, let alone criticize the government’s failure to prevent this harm.”
The UAE’s law restricts and severely punishes free speech and peaceful assembly, besides penalizing criticism of the political system and those in power.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified air pollution as the “greatest environmental threat to human health” globally.
The country is one of the world’s largest oil producers and is home to seven so-called “carbon bombs”, the largest fossil fuel production projects in the world, the rights group said.
For this report, the NGO reviewed and analyzed government air pollution data from 2018 to 2023, satellite data, government reports, and interviewed 12 migrant workers, including low-wage workers engaged in outdoor jobs.
HRW’s analysis of PM2.5 particles – measuring 2.5 microns or smaller in diameter and which can penetrate deep into the lungs and easily enter the bloodstream – from 30 government ground monitoring stations in September 2023 found that they were, on average, almost three times over WHO’s recommended levels.
According to World Bank data, the average annual exposure to PM2.5 in the UAE is more than eight times higher than the WHO considers safe for human health.
Approximately 1,872 people die every year from outdoor air pollution in the UAE, according to WHO.
The UAE government says that the country’s poor air quality is mainly due to natural dust from sandstorms but in “addition to the dust, emissions including from fossil fuels contribute significantly to the problem.”
“The planned expansion of fossil fuel operations also undermines the UAE government’s
objectives to reduce high air pollution levels,” the rights group said.
“Air pollution is a dirty secret in the UAE,” underlined Pearshouse of the HRW.
“If the government doesn’t allow civil society to scrutinize and speak freely about the connection between air pollution and its fossil fuel industry, people will keep experiencing health conditions that are entirely preventable.” EFE ijm/up/sc