At the COP28 climate summit, a statement by its president, Sultan Al Jaber, has sparked a heated debate among climate scientists and advocates. Al Jaber claimed there is no scientific basis or scenario supporting the necessity of phasing out fossil fuels to maintain global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
This statement contradicts the consensus of numerous scientific reports, which assert that a rapid reduction in fossil fuel usage is crucial to adhere to the Paris climate agreement's goal and prevent temperatures from reaching a point beyond which adaptation becomes more challenging for humans and ecosystems.
Al Jaber's comments were made during the She Changes Climate panel event on November 21 and have since been highlighted by media outlets such as the Guardian and CNN. When pressed by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and current chair of the Elders Group, on leading the phase-out of fossil fuels, Al Jaber responded, “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 emphasized his desire for a "sober and mature conversation" and dismissed discussions he considered alarmist.
The Broader Impact and COP28's Stance
Al Jaber's presidency of COP28 has been controversial, given his dual roles as the UAE’s climate envoy and chairman of both its renewables company and the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).
His statements reflect the complex dynamics of the ongoing debate at the summit, where countries are divided between advocating for a “phase-out” and a “phase-down” of fossil fuels. Responding to the criticism, a spokesperson for the COP28 team stated that the allegations are an attempt to undermine the Presidency's agenda, which is transparent and backed by tangible achievements.
The spokesperson reaffirmed the inevitability of phasing down and out of fossil fuels and the commitment to keeping the 1.5C goal within reach. Despite these reassurances, Al Jaber's comments have raised concerns about the summit's direction and the broader implications for global climate policy.