Climate leaders and scientists have expressed anger and disbelief after Sultan al Jaber, the president of COP28 and CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, claimed there was “no science” supporting the idea that phasing out fossil fuels is crucial to limit global warming to 1.5C.
The comments were made during an online Q&A session hosted by campaign group She Changes Climate and obtained by The Guardian.
The 2015 Paris Agreement set the target of limiting the world’s average surface temperature to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Achieving this goal is widely understood to require reducing or eliminating harmful emissions, particularly from fossil fuels.
Al Jaber’s remarks contradicted this consensus, stating, “there is no science out there…that says the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C.”
His comments came in response to former UN climate envoy Mary Robinson’s assertion that nations needed to commit to phasing out fossil fuel usage.
Al Jaber emphasised the inevitability and essential nature of a fossil fuel phase-out but urged a realistic and pragmatic approach. He also requested a roadmap for a phase-out that would allow for sustainable socioeconomic development.
Video footage of the Q&A session, which took place on November 21, surfaced days after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged world leaders to cut emissions drastically to save the planet.
Guterres emphasised that achieving the 1.5C limit is only possible by ultimately ceasing all fossil fuel burning.
Climate activists and scientists responded strongly to Al Jaber’s remarks. Teresa Anderson from ActionAid International criticised the comments as “completely divorced from the reality of hundreds of millions of people on the frontline of climate catastrophe.” Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, accused Al Jaber of being entrenched in “fossil fuel fantasy” and protecting the interests of the oil and gas industry.
Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, called the exchange “extraordinary, revealing, worrying, and belligerent.” He noted that the “sending us back to caves” statement resembled fossil fuel industry tropes verging on climate denial.
COP28 defended Al Jaber’s position, stating that he remains unwavering in acknowledging the need to phase out fossil fuels to keep the 1.5C goal achievable. The COP president is focused on working with parties to deliver a plan for a smooth transition with minimal disruption.
Al Jaber, who faced previous controversies, has been criticised for his ties to the fossil fuel industry and the UAE’s alleged interest in striking new oil and gas deals during the summit. The COP28 summit in Dubai is scheduled to continue until December 12.