The president of Cop28 states that the call for a gradual elimination of fossil fuels is not based on scientific evidence.
The Guardian and the Centre for Climate Reporting have uncovered that Sultan Al Jaber, the president of Cop28, stated that there is no scientific evidence supporting the need to phase out fossil fuels in order to limit global warming to 1.5C.
According to Al Jaber, abandoning the use of fossil fuels would hinder sustainable progress, unless the intention is to regress to primitive living in caves.
According to scientists, the comments were described as “extremely alarming” and “approaching climate denial”, and they contradicted the stance of UN secretary general, António Guterres.
Al Jaber’s remarks were made in a heated manner while responding to Mary Robinson, the chair of the Elders group and former UN special envoy for climate change, during a virtual event on November 21. In addition to organizing Cop28 in Dubai, Al Jaber also holds the position of chief executive at Adnoc, the state-owned oil company of the United Arab Emirates, which has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest.
Over 100 nations have already endorsed a plan to gradually eliminate the use of fossil fuels. The final agreement at the Cop28 summit is highly contested, with one of the main debates being whether to call for a complete phase-out or use less forceful terminology such as “phase-down”. The outcome of this debate could determine the success of the summit. It is crucial to make significant and immediate reductions in fossil fuel emissions in order to reach net-zero and mitigate the increasingly severe effects of climate change.
Al Jaber and Robinson had a conversation at a She Changes Climate event. Robinson expressed concern over the current crisis, stating that it is disproportionately affecting women and children due to the lack of commitment towards phasing out fossil fuels. She suggested that Cop28 could make a significant impact by making the decision to do so, and as the head of Adnoc, Al Jaber could bring more credibility to this decision.
Al Jaber said: “I accepted to come to this meeting to have a sober and mature conversation. I’m not in any way signing up to any discussion that is alarmist. There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C.”
Robinson continued to confront him, stating, “I have seen reports that your company plans to increase investments in fossil fuels.” Al Jaber disputed this, remarking, “You are relying on biased and inaccurate media. I am personally responsible for these decisions.”
Al Jaber appealed, “Please assist me by providing a plan for gradually reducing our reliance on fossil fuels while promoting sustainable socioeconomic progress. Otherwise, we risk regressing to a primitive lifestyle.”
Al Jaber expressed doubts about your ability to address the climate crisis by blaming others or adding to the existing division and polarization in the world. Instead, show me solutions. Let’s refrain from blaming and focus on finding solutions.
At the Cop28 conference on Friday, Guterres informed delegates that according to scientific evidence, achieving the 1.5C limit will require a complete cessation of burning fossil fuels, rather than simply reducing or mitigating their use. He emphasized the necessity of phasing out fossil fuel usage within a specific timeframe.
The CEO of Climate Analytics, Bill Hare, expressed his concern over the exchange, calling it extraordinary, revealing, worrisome, and confrontational. He also noted that the idea of “sending us back to caves” is a common talking point used by the fossil fuel industry and borders on denying the reality of climate change.
Al Jaber is requesting a plan for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This information can be found in the International Energy Agency’s most recent scenario for achieving net zero emissions, which states that there must be no new development of fossil fuels. The evidence from scientific research is indisputable and this means that a gradual elimination of fossil fuels must occur by the middle of this century, ultimately improving the well-being of all people.
Prof Sir David King, the chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group and a former UK chief scientific adviser, said: “It is incredibly concerning and surprising to hear the Cop28 president defend the use of fossil fuels. It is undeniable that to limit global warming to 1.5C we must all rapidly reduce carbon emissions and phase-out the use of fossil fuels by 2035 at the latest. The alternative is an unmanageable future for humanity.”
According to Dr Friederike Otto from Imperial College London, it has been scientifically proven for many years that we must stop using fossil fuels. If we fail to do so at Cop28, millions of vulnerable individuals will be at risk of the impacts of climate change. This would have a devastating impact and would be a regrettable outcome for Cop28.
Additionally, Otto disputed the argument that developing nations require the use of fossil fuels for progress. He stated that the most recent findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrate that the United Nations’ sustainable development goals cannot be met if we continue to rely on high-emission economies fueled by fossil fuels. Otto believes that transitioning to a fossil-free world would bring about significant co-benefits.
A representative from Cop28 stated that according to the IEA and IPCC 1.5C scenarios, fossil fuels will still have a role in the future energy system, although it will be reduced. The Cop president was referencing scientific findings and input from top climate experts.
He stated that the oil and gas sector needs to address scope 1 and 2 emissions from their operations, invest in clean energy and technologies to reduce scope 3 emissions from burning fuels, and all industries should work together to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Once more, this is clearly a deliberate attempt to sabotage the accomplishments of the Cop presidency and a distortion of our stance and progress thus far.”
The representative announced that the presidency has implemented the loss and damage fund with over $700 million, introduced a $30 billion private market climate initiative, and successfully persuaded 51 oil companies to commit to decarbonization goals. Additionally, 119 countries have signed a pledge to triple renewable energy. The spokesperson emphasized that this is only the start of their efforts.
Al Jaber is also head of Masdar, the UAE’s renewable energy company, but his appointment as Cop28 president has been controversial. Shortly before the summit, leaked documents showed that the UAE had planned to use climate meetings with governments to promote oil and gas deals. Al Jaber denied having seen or used the talking points in the documents. Adnoc also has the largest net-zero-busting expansion plans for oil and gas, according to independent analysis.
The matter of phasing out or reducing is complex due to the lack of clear definitions and the uncertain effectiveness of technologies used to reduce emissions, like carbon capture and storage. Otto stated, “In order to uphold the goals of the Paris agreement, a complete elimination of fossil fuels is necessary instead of a vague reduction that relies on untested methods.”
Over 100 countries from Africa, Europe, the Pacific, and the Caribbean support a gradual elimination of fossil fuels without carbon capture. The United States, the largest producer of oil and gas in the world, also supports this phase-out. However, countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China have rejected this proposal. At Cop28, there will be discussions on whether to mention only coal or to completely avoid mentioning fossil fuels.
The 2021 Cop26 meeting in Glasgow made a historic decision to decrease the use of coal, but this was changed from completely eliminating it at the last minute, causing the Cop26 president, Alok Sharma, to become emotional.
During his discussion with Robinson, Al Jaber expressed the belief that a reduction and eventual elimination of fossil fuels is necessary and unavoidable. He emphasized the importance of approaching this issue with a practical and earnest mindset.
“Wait a moment. Allow me to clarify,” he stated. “The demand for energy sources will persist in the world. The UAE stands alone as the leader in decarbonizing our oil and gas resources. We have the lowest carbon emissions rate.”
This pertains to the release of gases from the energy utilized in obtaining fossil fuels, not the significantly greater emissions from consuming the fuels. Otto stated, “There is no such thing as ‘low carbon’ or ‘lower carbon’ oil and gas.”
Many people have stated that any negative or humiliating information about Al Jaber and Adnoc puts more pressure on him to secure a successful Cop28 agreement. According to The Guardian, the UAE’s government-owned oil and gas fields have been regularly releasing gas into the atmosphere, despite making a promise 20 years ago to stop this practice.
According to a previous report by The Guardian, Adnoc had the ability to access emails between the Cop28 office until the newspaper brought attention to the matter in June. It was also revealed that the UAE did not disclose their oil industry’s methane emissions, which is a potent greenhouse gas.
According to Harjeet Singh, a representative of Climate Action Network, the 28th Conference of Parties (Cop28) should make a clear decision to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in a fair and unbiased way, with no room for the industry to exploit loopholes and worsen the climate crisis.