Cop28 president says there is ‘no science’ behind demands for phase-out of fossil fuels

The Guardian and Centre for Climate Reporting have revealed that the president of Cop28 Sultan Al Jaber has said there is “no scientific evidence” to support a phase out of fossil fuels to limit global warming to 1.5C.

Al Jaber said that a phase out of fossil fuels will not lead to sustainable development, “unless you wish to send the world back into the caves”.

Scientists said that the comments were “extremely concerning” and “bordering on climate denial”, and were in conflict with the position taken by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Al Jaber’s comments were made in an unfriendly manner during a live web event that took place on 21 November. Mary Robinson, a former UN Special Envoy for Climate Change and chair of the Elders Group, asked the questions. Al Jaber, who is the CEO of Cop28 in Dubai and the state oil company of the United Arab Emirates, Adnoc as well, has a conflict of interest that many people see.

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Over 100 countries support the phase-out fossil fuels. Whether the final Cop28 deal calls for it or uses weaker words such as “phase down” may determine its success. To limit climate change and bring fossil fuels emissions down to zero, we need to make rapid and deep cuts.

Al Jaber and Robinson spoke at the She Changes Climate conference. Robinson stated: “We are in a crisis that hurts women and children the most… because we haven’t yet committed to phase out fossil fuel.” This is the only decision that Cop28 could make, and because you are head of Adnoc you can actually do it with more credibility.

Al Jaber stated: “I agreed to attend this meeting in order to have an adult and sober conversation. I am not a part of any discussion which is alarmist. “There is no scientific evidence or scenario that suggests that the phase out of fossil fuels will achieve 1.5C.

Robinson then challenged him, saying, “I read that you are investing in more fossil fuels in the future.” Al Jaber replied, “You’re listening to your own biased media which is wrong.” I’m telling you that I am in charge.

Al Jaber said, “Please show me the roadmap to a phase out of fossil fuels that will allow sustainable socioeconomic growth, unless you wish to bring the world back into the caves.”

“I don’t think you will be able [to] solve the climate issue by pointing out the faults or contributing to the polarisation, the division that is already occurring in the world. Show me solutions. Stop pointing fingers. Al Jaber told him to stop.

Guterres said to the Cop28 delegates in a speech on Friday that “the science is clear. The 1.5C is only achievable if we stop burning fossil fuels.” Not abate, not reduce. “Phase out with a time-frame that is clear.”

Bill Hare is the CEO of Climate Analytics. He said, “This exchange was extraordinary, revealing and alarming. It was also belligerent.” “Sending us back into caves” is one of the oldest fossil fuel industry clichés. It’s on the verge of climate denial.

“Al Jaber wants a roadmap for 1.5C – anyone interested can find it in the International Energy Agency’s latest net zero emission scenario which states that there can be no new fossil fuel development. The science is clear, and that means there will be a phase out by mid-century. This will improve the lives of everyone.

Prof Sir David King is the former UK chief scientist and chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group. He said, “It’s incredibly alarming and surprising to hear that the Cop28 President defends the use of fossil energies. To limit global warming at 1.5C, we all must reduce carbon emissions rapidly and phase out fossil fuels before 2035. “The alternative is an unmanageable world for humanity.”

Dr Friederike Otto, Imperial College London (UK), said that “the science of climate changes has been clear since decades: We need to stop burning coal fuels.” If fossil fuels are not phased out at Cop28, several million more people will be vulnerable to climate change. It would be a horrible legacy for Cop28.”

Otto rejected the idea that fossil fuels are necessary for the development of poorer countries. He said that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report “shows that UN sustainable development goals cannot be achieved by continuing with the current fossil-driven, high emission economies.” There are massive benefits that come from a world free of fossil fuels.

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A spokesperson for Cop28 stated: “The IEA 1.5C scenarios clearly states that fossil fuels must play a part in the future energy systems, albeit a small one. The Cop president was quoting leading climate scientists and the science.

“He has stated clearly that the oil and Gas industry must tackle scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions [from their operations], that they must invest in clean technology and clean energy to address scope 3, emissions [from burning of fuels], that all industries must align themselves around the North Star of 1.5C.

“This is part of an ongoing effort to undermine tangible achievements of the Cop presidency and a misrepresentation our position and success to date.”

The spokesperson stated that the presidency had operationalised a loss and damages fund with over $700m. It also launched a private market climate vehicle of $30bn, brought 51 oil companies together to set decarbonisation goals, and signed 119 pledges to triple renewable energy. The spokesperson stated that “this is only the beginning”.

Al Jaber also heads Masdar, the UAE renewable energy company. However, his appointment as president of Cop28 has been controversial. Leaked documents revealed that, shortly before the summit’s start date, the UAE planned to use climate talks with governments to promote oil deals. Al Jaber denies having read or used the talking point in the documents. Independent analysis also found that Adnoc has the biggest net-zero expansion plans in oil and gas.

It is difficult to define a phase-out and phase-down because there are no agreed-upon definitions. Also, the role of technologies that “abate”, or reduce emissions such as carbon storage and capture, is highly uncertain. “To keep the Paris Agreement targets alive, a complete fossil fuel phase-out is required. Not a vague phase down relying upon unproven technology,” Otto said.

Over 100 African, European and Caribbean nations support a phased-out fossil fuel use. The US, which is the largest oil and gas producer in the world, supports a phase out as well. Other countries, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China, do not support the proposal. Both op