COP28 leader defends controversial remarks

COP28 leader defends controversial remarks
Controversial comments on fossil fuels by Sultan al-Jaber are complicating the COP28 conference in Dubai. / Arctic Circle
By by Roberta Harrington in Los Angeles December 6, 2023

Sultan al-Jaber, the oil executive who is leading the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, has rocked the conference with highly controversial remarks that there is “no science” that phasing out fossil fuels is necessary.

In a hastily called news conference, Al-Jaber said his remarks were misinterpreted.

The oil executive had made the comment during a panel event on November 21 of global leaders, the Elders Group. He was being interviewed by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and a former UN special envoy for climate change.

She asked him if he would lead the charge on phasing out fossil fuels.

He retorted that “there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5”, he told the live online meeting. Al-Jaber was clearly irritated.

The maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise is the goal of the Paris Agreement.

Robinson persisted: “I read that your company is investing in a lot more fossil fuel in the future.” The oil executive responded: “You’re reading your own media, which is biased and wrong. I am telling you I am the man in charge.”

Al Jaber then said: “Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.”

“I don’t think [you] will be able to help solve the climate problem by pointing fingers or contributing to the polarisation and the divide that is already happening in the world. Show me the solutions. Stop the pointing of fingers. Stop it,” al-Jaber said.

He also told Robinson that he had expected to come to the She Changes Climate meeting for a “sober and mature conversation” and was not “signing up to any discussion that is alarmist”.

The video of the panel event was first reported on by the Guardian but has since been reviewed by other news organisations.

Al-Jaber is chief executive of the United Arab Emirates’ state oil company, ADNOC, and his presidency of COP28 has been contentious. Critics had from the start said he had no business being president of COP28, any more than a petrostate such as the UAE had of being the host country.

Professor Sir David King, chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group and a former UK chief scientific adviser, told the Guardian: “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.”

During COP28 the oil executive has defended his belief in science and told reporters that “the phase-down and the phase-out of fossil fuels is essential'. he accused the media that reported on his initial comments as “undermining” his message.

The future of fossil fuels is one of the most controversial issues at the conference, underway until December 12. Some are seeking a phase out of fossil fuels and some are seeking a phase down, which just means less fossil fuels. Fossil fuels contribute some three-quarters of climate emissions.