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

The Cop28 president has claimed there is no science behind calls to phase-out fossil fuels as a way of limiting global heating to 1.5C.

The remarks by Sultan Ahmed al Jaber, the United Arab Emirate’s designated leader of the summit in Dubai, resurfaced on Sunday, sparking a backlash from some experts.

During an online event alongside former Irish president Mary Robinson last month, Mr Jaber insisted a phase-out of oil would not allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves”.

The remarks, first reported by The Guardian, rippled through the Dubai summit on Sunday and were met with dismay by some climate scientists and activists.

“It’s alarming to read the president of the UN climate talks questioning the science on the need to end fossil fuels,” Cansin Leylim Ilgaz, associate director of global campaign for climate advocacy group, told The Independent.

“Scientific report after scientific report, by the IPPC, IEA and others, have demonstrated that there is an urgent need to cut down emissions by 42 per cent by 2030 compared to 2019 levels, and completely phase out coal, oil and gas by 2050 if we are to stay below 1.5C.”

Responding to the reports, a Cop28 spokesperson said it was “just another attempt to undermine the presidency’s agenda”. “The Cop president was unwavering in saying reaching 1.5C 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 1.5C within reach,” they added.

Former US vice president Al Gore said of the UAE: “They are abusing the public’s trust by naming the CEO of one of the largest and least responsible oil companies in the world as head of the Cop.”

Mr Jaber’s appointment has been controversial from the start with the sultan coming under scrutiny after the BBC revealed that the UAE planned to use its role as Cop28 host to strike oil and gas deals. A Cop28 spokesperson denied this was the case.

Entirely phasing out fossil fuels is a key demand from this summit. Greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, and the world is on track for 3C of temperature rise this century, double the 1.5C goal.

A report from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the branch of the UN tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change, released a report on Sunday which underlined this concern, branding the phasing out of fossil fuels “non negotiable”.

EU commissioner Ursula von der Leyen further underlined the point, telling delegates: “We must phase out fossil fuels. And we must reduce methane emissions.”

Other experts echoed similar sentiments, raising concerns over where negotiations are headed.

“Cop28 president Al Jaber’s science-denying statements are alarming and raise deep concerns about the presidency’s capacity to lead the UN climate talks at a time when leadership and a clear vision are most needed,” Romain Ioualalen, Oil Change International’s global policy lead, said in a statement.

Mr Jaber was speaking to Ms Robinson at a She Changes Climate event when he made the comments.

Ms Robinson asked the Cop28 chief: “We’re in an absolute crisis that is hurting women and children more than anyone… and it’s because we have not yet committed to phasing out fossil fuel. That is the one decision that Cop28 can take and in many ways, because you’re head of Adnoc, you could actually take it with more credibility.”

In response, Mr Jaber, called it alarmist. “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,” he told her in the video.

“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.”

He added that phase-out of fossil fuels would not allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves”.

Teresa Anderson, ActionAid International’s global climate justice lead, called the statements “completely divorced from the reality of hundreds of millions of people on the frontline of climate catastrophe”.

More than 100 European, African, Pacific and Caribbean nations back a phase-out. While the US, which is the world’s biggest oil and gas producer, also supports the calls to move away from fossil fuels. Others, such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, reject such demands.

Both options remain on the table at the eco-summit, as well as proposals to target coal only, or to exclude fossil fuels entirely.

This year’s climate summit, which is taking place after the world experienced back-to-back record-breaking temperatures and climate extremes, is seeing strong calls for the final agreement to include a deadline for ending all fossil fuels.

Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, declared on the second day of the summit: “The science is clear: the 1.5C limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce, not abate. Phase out, with a clear timeframe.”

However, the stand from the presidency has been in conflict with this position. Mr Jaber has repeatedly said that he believes oil and gas companies should have a say in the climate talks.

On the opening of the climate summit, he said: “Let history reflect the fact that this is the presidency that made a bold choice to proactively engage with oil and gas companies.”