Sultan Al Jaber, chair of the COP28 climate summit, claimed that there is “no science or scenario” that shows that fossil fuels must be phased out to limit global warming to 1.5C.
Al Jaber also said that phasing out fossil fuels would not enable sustainable development “unless the world is to be taken back to the caves”.
The scientists said these comments were “incredibly worrying” and “amount to climate denial” and also contradict the position of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Al Jaber made the comments during a live-streamed online event on November 21, answering questions from Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders group and former UN special envoy on climate change, according to the Guardian and the Climate Reporting Center. In addition to running Cop28 in Dubai, Al Jaber is also CEO of the United Arab Emirates‘ state oil company Adnoc, which many observers see as a serious conflict of interest.
More than 100 countries already support fossil fuel phase-out, and whether this or weaker language such as “phase down” will be used in the final COP28 agreement is one of the most hotly debated issues of the summit and could be a key determinant of its success. Deep and rapid cuts are needed to reduce fossil fuel emissions to zero and limit rapidly worsening climate impacts.
Al Jaber spoke with Robinson at the She Changes Climate event. In this program, Robinson said:
“We are in an absolute crisis that harms women and children more than anyone else… and that’s because we have not yet committed to phase out fossil fuels. That is the only decision COP28 can take, and in many ways, because you are the president of Adnoc, you can take it more credibly.”
In response, Al Jaber said:
“I agreed to come to this meeting to have a sober and mature conversation. I don’t agree in any way with any alarmist arguments. There is no science or scenario that says phasing out fossil fuels will lead to 1.5C.”
In response to Al Jaber, Robinson said, “I read that your company will be investing a lot more in fossil fuels in the future.” Al Jaber’s response to this was:
“You are reading your own media, which is biased and wrong. I am telling you that I am the authorized person.”
‘Show the road map’
Al Jaber then stated:
“Please help me, if you don’t want to take the world back to the caves, show me the roadmap for phasing out fossil fuels in a way that allows for sustainable socioeconomic development.
I don’t think you can help solve the climate problem by pointing fingers or by contributing to the polarization and division that is already happening in the world. Show me the solutions. Stop the finger pointing. Stop it.”
‘The science is clear: 1.5C limit only possible without fossil fuels’
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, said to COP28 delegates on December 1:
“The science is clear: The 1.5C limit is only possible if we finally stop consuming all fossil fuels. Not reduce, not mitigate. Phase it out with a clear timeframe.”
‘His view leads to ikim denial’
Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, was quoted by the Guardian as saying:
“This is an extraordinary, revealing, alarming and combative exchange of views. ‘Sending us back to the caves’ is the fossil fuel industry’s oldest trope: it amounts to climate denial.”
Hare added: “Al Jaber wants a 1.5C roadmap – anyone who cares about that can find it in the International Energy Agency‘s latest net zero emissions scenario, which says there can be no new fossil fuel development. The science is absolutely clear [and] this surely means a phase-out that will improve the lives of all humanity by mid-century.”
‘This is an undeniable fact’
Prof. Sir David King, Chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group and former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK, said:
“It is deeply worrying and surprising to hear the head of COP28 defending the use of fossil fuels. It is undeniable that to limit global warming to 1.5C, we all need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and phase out fossil fuels by 2035 at the latest. The alternative is an unmanageable future for humanity.”
‘This will be a terrible legacy for COP28’
Dr. Friederike Otto from Imperial College London in the UK said:
“The science of climate change has been clear for decades: we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Failure to phase out fossil fuels at COP28 will put millions more vulnerable people in the fire line of climate change. This will be a terrible legacy for COP28.”
Otto also rejected the claim that fossil fuels are necessary for the development of poor countries, saying that the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “shows that the UN’s sustainable development goals cannot be achieved by maintaining the current fossil-based high-emission economies” and that there are enormous co-benefits to be gained from the transition to a fossil-free world.
‘The concrete achievements of the COP Presidency are being undermined’
A spokesperson for COP28 responded to criticism of Al Jaber’s statements as follows:
“The IEA and IPCC 1.5C scenarios clearly state that fossil fuels will need to play a smaller role in the future energy system. The COP chairman was quoting science and leading climate experts.
He made it clear that the oil and gas industry must tackle scope 1 and 2 emissions [from its operations], that it must invest in clean energy and clean technologies to address scope 3 emissions [from the consumption of fuels], and that the entire industry must adapt to keep the north star of 1.5C within reach. Once again, this is part of an ongoing effort to undermine the concrete achievements of the COP presidency and is a misrepresentation of our position and achievements to date.”
In addition, the COP spokesperson said the presidency has activated a loss and damage fund of over $700 million, launched a $30 billion private market climate instrument, and got 51 oil companies to agree to decarbonization targets and 119 countries to sign a commitment to triple renewable energy, adding:
“This is just the beginning.”
Al Jaber is also chairman of Masdar, the UAE’s renewable energy company, but his appointment as COP28 chairman has sparked controversy. Documents leaked shortly before the summit showed that the UAE planned to use climate meetings with governments to promote oil and gas deals.
Al Jaber denied having seen/used the talking points in the documents. According to independent analysis, Adnoc also has the largest anti net zero expansion plans in oil and gas.
Al Jaber denied having seen/used the talking points in the documents. Adnoc also has the largest anti-net zero expansion plans in oil and gas, according to independent analysis.
The issue of ‘phase-out’ or ‘phase-down’ is complicated by the lack of agreed definitions of the terms and the highly ambiguous role of technologies to ‘reduce’ emissions, such as carbon capture and storage.
“Keeping the Paris Agreement targets alive will require a full fossil fuel phase-out, not a vague phase-down based on unproven technologies,” Otto said.
More than 100 African, European, Pacific and Caribbean countries are supporting the accelerated phase-out of fossil fuels. The United States, the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, also supports phasing out. Other countries, such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and China, reject this call. Both options are on the table at COP28, as well as proposals to only mention coal or to say nothing at all about fossil fuels. At COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, it was first agreed to “phased reduction” the use of coal, but this was changed at the last minute to “phasing out”, leaving Cop26 President Alok Sharma in tears. In his interview with Robinson, Al Jaber said:
“COP28 must make a decision on phasing out fossil fuels in a fair and equitable way, without any loopholes or escape routes for industry to continue to expand and exacerbate the climate crisis,” said Harjeet Singh of the Climate Action Network.