The claim by Sultan Al Jaber, the president of the COP28 Climate Summit that there is “no science” that says phasing out fossil fuels is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, has alarmed climate scientists and advocates.
The future role of fossil fuels is one of the most controversial issues countries are grappling with at the COP28 climate summit. While some are pushing for a “phase-out,” others are calling for the weaker language of a “phase-down.”
Al Jaber made the remarks during the She Changes Climate panel event on November 21, which was first reported by The Guardian (UK), and the Centre for Climate Reporting, an investigative journalism organisation.
He suggested a fossil fuel phase-out would not allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves”.
Al Jaber was asked by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and current chair of the Elders Group, an independent group of global leaders if he would lead on phasing out fossil fuels.
He replied: “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 1.5C.
“A phase-out of fossil fuel, in my view, is inevitable, it is essential. But we need to be real, serious and pragmatic about it.”
Scientists and campaign groups reacted with anger to Al Jaber’s remarks.
Asked to respond to Al-Jaber’s comments, John Kerry, the United States climate envoy replied, “That’s not the argument.”
“The G7 countries voted that there should be a phasing out of unmitigated fossil fuel emissions and what there is science for is keeping 1.5 degrees as your North Star,” Kerry told CNBC’s Tania Bryer at ongoing COP28 climate summit on Sunday.
“Every decision we make should be geared to say, ‘does this advance the 1.5 degrees or is it going to be more destructive and take us in the wrong direction?’”
A spokesperson for COP28 told CNBC the story regarding Al-Jaber’s comments was “just another attempt to undermine the presidency’s agenda, which has been clear and transparent and backed by tangible achievements by the COP president and his team.”
They said Al-Jaber has been “unwavering” in saying that keeping global warming to 1.5°C involves action across a number of areas and sectors. “The COP president is clear that phasing down and out of fossil fuels is inevitable and that we must keep 1.5°C within reach. We are not sure what this story was supposedly revealing. Nothing in it is new or breaking news.”
Fossil fuel production in 2030 is expected to be more than double what would be necessary to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees, a recent report from several scientific institutions, including the UN Environment Programme, found. That report used scenarios laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) to reach its conclusion.
“If the IPCC and IEA do not count as science then I don’t know what does,” said Ploy Achakulwisut, a climate researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the authors of the report. She told CNN it concluded “that all fossil fuels have to be phased out especially if carbon dioxide removal and carbon capture and storage measures fail to scale.”
Romain Ioualalen, global policy lead at non-profit Oil Change International, said in a statement Al Jaber’s statements during the panel discussion were “alarming,” “science-denying” and “raise deep concerns about the Presidency’s capacity to lead the UN climate talks.”
Joeri Rogelj, a climate professor at Imperial College London, said he strongly recommended Al Jaber revisit the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“That report, approved unanimously by 195 countries including the UAE, shows a variety of ways to limit warming to 1.5°C — all of which indicate a de facto phase-out of fossil fuels in the first half of the century. Will that take the world back to the caves? Not,” he said in a statement.
Mohamed Adow, director of climate think tank Power Shift Africa, said Al Jaber’s remarks were a “wake-up call” to the world and COP28 negotiators. “They are not going to get any help from the COP Presidency in delivering a strong outcome on a fossil fuel phase-out,” he said in a statement.
Al Jaber’s presidency of the COP28 summit has been controversial. The Emirati businessman is the UAE’s climate envoy and chairs the board of directors of its renewables company, but he also heads the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).