COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber stuns the world by saying there is “no science” behind call for fossil fuel cuts

The 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) currently under way in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is also the platform for the Global Stocktake — the assessment of what the world has done to cut emissions since the Paris Agreement of December 2015 — but COP28 President and the UAE’s top oil man Sultan Al Jaber has left the world stunned with his comment that there is “no science” behind the call for fossil fuel cuts.

COP28 President and ADNOC chief Sultan Al Jaber. Photo courtesy: X/@COP28_UAE

Al Jaber has many roles: UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology; head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC); and chairman of Masdar, the UAE’s state-owned renewable energy company. Concern about the conflict of interest between the Emirati leader representing the oil industry and heading the climate conference at the same time had been expressed outside the country for months before the event.

This particular “no science” comment came, according to an exclusive report published on Sunday by The Guardian, during an online chat that Al Jaber had on November 21 with Mary Robinson, President of Ireland; chair of The Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela; and climate justice advocate. This was just days before the inauguration of COP28.

In its report, The Guardian said that the ADNOC chief’s comments were “incredibly concerning” and “verging on climate denial”, according to scientists, and that “they were at odds with the position of the UN Secretary General, António Guterres”.

The China-built Al Dhafra PV2 solar power plant in the UAE was recently completed. This is supposed to be the world’s largest single-site solar farm, which can reduce carbon emissions by 2.4 million tonnes per year and power nearly 200,000 homes. Photo courtesy: X/@SpokespersonCHN

During the chat, titled ‘She Changes Climate’, Robinson emphasised on the impact of climate change on women, children, the elderly and the disabled, groups that were more affected than others — presumably because of calamity-related displacement and loss of livelihood, though she did not mention the specific reasons. Calling the situation “an absolute crisis”, she said that this was because “we have not yet committed to phasing out fossil fuels”.

She said that this phase-out was a decision that COP28 could take under the presidency of Al Jaber; and that as the head of ADNOC, he could declare recognising the need to phase out fossil fuels. Robinson focused on the word “urgent”. Al Jaber said that he had used the word “fast-track”.

When Robinson pressed the point and asked whether Al Jaber would “lead” on phasing out fossil fuels, the COP28 president responded that Robinson — or Ireland as a developed country — could “lead by example” on such a phase-out.

The next words spoken by Al Jaber have now caused a global sensation following the Guardian reveal. The UAE minister said that he came to the live chat for a “sober and mature conversation” and not to sign up to any discussion “that is alarmist”.

Stating that he preferred to “respect the science”, the COP28 president said that there was “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”.

This number of “1.5” represents the global climate action goal, as set by the Paris Agreement, of limiting the rise in global temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade from the pre-industrial baseline. If the temperature rises beyond this limit, especially if it rises 2 degrees Centigrade above the baseline, the results would be catastrophic for many regions around the world.

Al Jaber said that 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”.

Robinson pointed out that ADNOC was making new investments in fossil fuel and that this would “hurt women”. An evidently upset Al Jaber said that she had “accused” him of “something that is not correct”. The conversation got a little heated here as Al Jaber said that the Irish leader was only reading the reports of her own country’s media outlets, which were “biased and wrong”.

Rebutting the “false accusations”, Al Jaber said, “Please help me, show me a roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socio-economic development — unless you want to take the world back into caves.”

A couple of minutes later, Al Jaber said, “Stop pointing fingers. Show me solutions. Show me what you can do. Show me your own contributions. And I will salute you for it. Stop the pointing of fingers. Stop it.”

This exchange has brought both outrage and an outpouring of support for Al Jaber now. While COP28 is seeing the usual tussle between countries on how to cut emissions, the social network X (formerly Twitter) is bursting at the seams with comments for and against Al Jaber. Renowned environmental journalist George Monbiot tweeted: “No Sultan Al Jaber, phasing out 19th Century technologies does not take us back to the Stone Age, but into the 21st Century. If we *don’t* phase out fossil fuels, we will be living in caves.”