There is “no science” behind the demand to phase out fossil fuels, the United Arab Emirates politician and Cop28 president has said in the latest difficult revelation for the summit’s Emirati hosts.
During a meeting in the run-up to the summit, Dr Sultan Al-Jaber, who also heads the state oil company Adnoc, said the phase-out of fossil fuels was not necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5C.
“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 said in response to a question from Mary Robinson, the former Irish president.
The revelation will put further pressure on the UAE, the wealthy petrostate that faces the task of securing a global agreement on reducing emissions by the end of the two-week summit.
Dr Al-Jaber, also the head of the renewable energy company Masdar, has already come under scrutiny following reports that he planned to use meetings with other governments to push oil and gas deals. He and the Cop28 team have repeatedly dismissed the reports as false.
In the recordings, originally reported on Sunday by The Guardian, Dr Al-Jaber suggested a phase-out of fossil fuels would mean countries missing out on “sustainable socioeconomic development” and could not be achieved “unless you want to take the world back into caves”.
He added that a “phase-down and a phase-out of fossil fuels is inevitable, it is essential, but we need to be real, serious and pragmatic about it.”
His comments, revealed by the Centre for Climate Reporting, are at odds with messaging from the UN, which convenes the Cop28 summit.
Prof Sir David King, a former UK chief scientific adviser, and the chairman of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group told the Guardian that they were “incredibly concerning and surprising”.
On Friday, Antonio Guterres, the UN chief, called for a total oil and gas phase-out, saying: “Not reduce. Not abate. Phase out – with a clear timeframe aligned with 1.5 degrees.”
The comments from Dr Al-Jaber were seized upon by climate activists, who pointed to analysis finding that phasing out fossil fuels is necessary to stick to the Paris Agreement goals, including a new report released on Sunday at the conference in Dubai.
The report, Ten New Insights in Climate Science, which was produced to advise the UN, finds that warming beyond 1.5C is “fast becoming inevitable” and that scenarios that include oil and gas in the future were no longer feasible to limit warming.
“The only way to do that is to phase out fossil fuels by 2050,” Prof Johan Rockstrom, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told the conference
But he acknowledged that Dr Al-Jaber may be right in a limited sense in that “it may not be an absolute zero [fossil fuels] by 2050. There will be a residual that will have to be abated through carbon dioxide removal technologies”.
‘Critical decade of accelerated climate action’
Simon Stiell, the head of the UN’s climate change body, which convenes the Cop28 summit, said “scientific findings from reports like these should inform the ambitious and evidence-based action plans needed in this critical decade of accelerated climate action”.
Mr Stiell had been expected to attend a press conference on Sunday afternoon but pulled out shortly after Dr Al-Jaber’s comments were reported.
Responding to Dr Al-Jaber’s remarks, Prof Joeri Rogelj, a contributor to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said: “I strongly recommend him asking around for the latest IPCC report.
“That report, approved unanimously by 195 countries including the UAE, shows a variety of ways to limit warming to 1.5C, all of which indicate a de facto phase-out of fossil fuels in the first half of the century.”
A spokesman for Cop28 said: “This story is 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.
“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. We are not sure what this story was supposedly revealing. Nothing in it is new or breaking news.”