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From CEOs to students: Dubai adventurer calls on residents to row around UAE coastline in new COP28 challenge

Story Highlights
  • The expat is also launching a Plastic Pledge movement targeting corporations and schools

A Dubai-based British rower, who rowed 5,000km across the Atlantic Ocean last year on a boat with no motor, has come up with a new initiative in time for COP28. Adventurer and environmental changemaker Toby Gregory has started a Row to COP28 initiative to circumnavigate the coastline of the UAE from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah.

“It will begin during the first week of November and take place mostly during the weekends,” he told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the Climate Future Week that kicked off in Dubai on Tuesday. “What we’re going to do is offer my ocean rowboat over to everybody- CEOs, members of media and students- to row around the coastline of the UAE. It is an ambitious project, but we live in a country that likes to dream big.”

Toby, who led the first UAE flag that successfully rowed across the Atlantic Ocean completely unsupported and unassisted, said the campaign was a nod to the people who rallied around him. “I could not have completed my row without the support of the community and without the support of the UAE,” he said. “It is the least I can do to thank them for their help.”

He said the intent was to find people who were willing to raise their voices and say what the environment means to them. “It doesn’t have to just be about plastics, but we’re looking for people to row that boat and be part of our journey,” he said.

Plastic Pledge

In addition to the Row to COP28, Toby is launching a Plastic Pledge movement targeting corporations and schools. “I’ve seen other pledges come and go,” he said. “Ours is incredibly rigorous, but it’s done with the spirit of positivity. It starts with a simple audit where companies themselves review their plastic consumption. Particularly single-use plastics. Following that, they then make a plan. They set their own targets.”

The company is then reviewed after three, five, and nine months, and the process starts again. Toby said he has got an immense response to the pledge. “My aim was only to have 50 entities or companies sign up, but I’ve already got 150 waiting for us to get back to them to see if they can be part of it,” he said. “We have over 31,000 students connected to the plastic pledge.”

Be the change you want to see

A lifelong environment campaigner, Toby quit his full-time job to focus on environmental issues and adventures. He has travelled across the world campaigning about his pet cause- reducing the amount of plastic in oceans.

Toby and his team spent 42 days rowing across the Atlantic Ocean in a bid to raise awareness about marine pollution. Toby shared some of the challenges they faced during this period. “Solar panels provided our electricity, and we desalinated all our own water,” he said. “We had to learn how to use all this equipment. We didn’t know any of it. Also, there’s no rest. Two hours on, one hour off, two hours on, one hour off, 42 days. We were out in that ocean, and we went through at least six days of the storm.

He said that his row was possible only because he was in the UAE. “You know, I went to experts in other parts of the world and they kind of closed their door,” he said. “But here, there was a belief that we could make something happen. Since its inception in 1971, the UAE has supported the global climate agenda.”


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