In a surprising turn of events, Sultan Al Jaber, the President of COP28, has stirred controversy by asserting that there is “no science” backing the necessity of phasing out fossil fuels to restrict global warming to the critical 1.5-degree Celsius limit. The Guardian and the Centre for Climate Reporting recently unveiled Al Jaber’s contentious comments as COP28 President Claims ‘No Science’ Supports the Need to Phase Out Fossil Fuels, drawing immediate concerns from scientists and climate advocates.
The debate unfolded during a live online event on November 21. Al Jaber exchanged heatedly with Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders group and former UN Special Envoy for Climate Change. Robinson, probing the critical issue of fossil fuel phase-out, deemed Al Jaber’s comments “incredibly concerning” and bordering on “climate denial.” This stance sharply contrasts with the position of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who has unequivocally emphasized the imperative of ceasing all fossil fuel usage to achieve the 1.5°C target.
Al Jaber, who also serves as the Chief Executive of Adnoc, the United Arab Emirates’ state oil company, faces allegations of a serious conflict of interest. This dual role amplifies concerns about a potential bias that might skew COP28 decisions, particularly those relating to the phasing out of fossil fuels.
At the heart of the matter lies the fundamental question: Is a fossil fuel phase-out scientifically justified, or does it risk hindering sustainable development, as Al Jaber contends? This debate holds immense significance as COP28 delegates grapple with the formulation of agreements that may shape global climate policies.
Al Jaber’s comments, delivered in response to Robinson’s queries, challenged the prevailing narrative on the necessity of fossil fuel phase-out. He asserted that such a drastic measure is not substantiated by existing science or scenarios. Moreover, he argued that a fossil fuel phase-out would be counterproductive unless accompanied by a viable roadmap for sustainable socioeconomic development. Al Jaber cautioned against what he perceived as alarmist discussions, emphasizing the need for pragmatic and serious consideration of the global energy landscape.
Furthermore, Al Jaber’s defence of the oil and gas industry raised eyebrows. In response to Robinson’s reference to Adnoc’s reported investments in future fossil fuel endeavours, he dismissed such claims as biased and wrong, asserting his ultimate authority.
Global Concerns and Scientific Consensus
Critics, including renowned climate scientists, swiftly responded to Al Jaber’s comments, expressing deep concern and scepticism about the validity of his arguments. António Guterres, echoing the consensus within the scientific community, unequivocally stated that achieving the 1.5°C limit requires a complete cessation of burning all fossil fuels, not just reductions or abatements.
Bill Hare, the Chief Executive of Climate Analytics, described the exchange as “extraordinary, revealing, worrying, and belligerent,” suggesting that Al Jaber’s remarks were verging on climate denial. Prof Sir David King, Chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, emphasized the undeniable imperative of rapidly reducing carbon emissions and phasing out fossil fuels by 2035 to limit global warming.
Al Jaber’s Dual Roles: A Conflict of Interest?
The controversy surrounding the COP28 President’s Claims ‘No Science’ Supports the Need to Phase Out Fossil Fuels is further fueled by his dual roles as COP28 President and Chief Executive of Adnoc. Critics argue that overseeing a state oil company while leading global climate discussions represents a clear conflict of interest. Leaked documents prior to the summit suggested that the UAE intended to leverage climate meetings to promote oil and gas deals.
Al Jaber’s challenges to the prevailing narrative and defence of fossil fuels have intensified the pressure on him to deliver a robust COP28 deal. Previous revelations about Adnoc’s routine gas flaring and the UAE’s failure to report methane emissions from its oil industry have added to the scrutiny.