COP28 president slammed over claims there's "no science" in fossil fuel phase-out calls

COP28 president slammed over claims there’s “no science” in fossil fuel phase-out calls

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber’s newly reported comments that there’s “no science” behind the push to phase out fossil fuels drew backlash at the UN climate summit in Dubai on Sunday.

Context: The UAE climate envoy and CEO of state oil firm ADNOC made the comments during a Nov. 21 online discussion while being challenge to take a lead on the matter by Mary Robinson, a longtime climate activist and the former president of the Republic of Ireland, per video that The Guardian published Sunday.

Of note: U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said Friday, “The science is clear. The 1.5 degree [2.7°F] limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning fossil fuels — not reduce, not abate, [but rather] phase out with a clear time frame aligned with 1.5 degrees.”

Zoom in: Robinson said at the SHE Changes Climate online event that the climate crisis is “hurting women and children more than anyone” because “we have not yet committed to phasing out fossil fuel,” adding: “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.”

  • Al-Jaber said he would not sign up to any discussion that’s alarmist. “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 1.5°C” above preindustrial levels, al-Jaber said, referring to the more stringent of the Paris Agreement targets.
  • “Show me a roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuels that will allow for sustainable socio-economic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves,” he said.
  • However, al-Jaber did say that a phase-down and a phase-out of fossil fuel was “inevitable” and “essential,” echoing comments he’s made previously, but “we need to be real serious and pragmatic about it.”

Zoom out: The most recent assessments from the U.N.’s climate science panel say that cutting emissions steeply by 2030, reaching net zero by 2050, is required in order to have a chance at limiting warming to 1.5°C.

  • A U.N. report last month recommended a “near total phase-out” of coal production by 2040 and a three-quarters reduction in oil and gas production and use by 2050 compared with 2020 levels.
  • EU commissioner Ursula von der Leyen is among the world leaders spearheading calls to phase out fossil fuels and reduce methane emissions.

What they’re saying: Romain Ioualalen, Oil Change International’s global policy lead, said in a statement that 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.”

  • Tom Evans, with the consultancy E3G, said emergence of the video “really amps up the pressure” on al-Jaber, per Bloomberg.
  • “If COP doesn’t strike a deal on eliminating fossil fuels, many countries will be to blame — but fingers will be pointing at the UAE,” he added.

The other side: A COP28 spokesperson told Bloomberg the video was “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.”

  • Al-Jaber “has repeatedly communicated our position on fossil fuels and invited all parties to work together and come up with solutions that can achieve alignment, common ground and consensus,” the spokesperson added.
  • “We are excited with the progress we have made so far and for the delivery of an ambitious GST decision. Attempts to undermine this will not soften our resolve.”

The intrigue: The video could embolden the nations in favor of a fossil fuel phase-out to push for such language in a Dubai agreement.

Go deeper: Fossil fuel lobbying in the spotlight at COP28

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