COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber, has rejected the scientific basis for the global demand to phase out fossil fuels saying it lacks evidence to restrict global heating to the critical 1.5°C target.
The controversial remarks, made during a live online event, have drawn criticism from scientists, climate activists, and even contradicted the stance of the UN Secretary General, António Guterres.
Al Jaber's assertions, labeling the phase-out as a regression "back into caves" and refusing to commit to such measures, have sparked concerns among experts, with some accusing him of verging on climate denial.
The comments were made in response to questions from Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders group and former UN special envoy for climate change.
The president's dual role as the chief executive of the United Arab Emirates' state oil company, Adnoc, has further fueled accusations of conflict of interest.
Robinson pointed out the potential credibility Al Jaber could bring to the discussion given his position at Adnoc, a major player in the fossil fuel industry.
The debate over fossil fuel phase-out is a central issue at COP28, with more than 100 countries already supporting the initiative.
The choice between a strong commitment to a phase-out and weaker language such as "phase-down" could be a pivotal factor in determining the summit's success.
The urgency of deep and rapid cuts to achieve zero fossil fuel emissions aligns with the scientific consensus and the position of the UN Secretary-General.
Leading climate experts have expressed concern over Al Jaber's stance, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive roadmap for a fossil fuel phase-out.
Climate Analytics Chief Executive Bill Hare called the exchange "extraordinary, revealing, worrying, and belligerent," suggesting that Al Jaber's position echoes long-standing fossil fuel industry tropes.
Despite Al Jaber's argument that the world still needs energy sources and that the UAE has been decarbonizing oil and gas resources, climate scientists argue that a complete phase-out is essential.
The spokesperson for COP28 defended Al Jaber's statements, citing the International Energy Agency (IEA) and IPCC scenarios.
However, critics argue that the terms "phase-out" and "phase-down" lack agreed definitions, adding complexity to the negotiations.
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The controversy surrounding Al Jaber is further intensified by leaked documents revealing UAE's intention to use climate meetings to promote oil and gas deals.
Critics argue that revelations about Adnoc's practices, such as routine gas flaring and monitoring of COP28 office emails, raise concerns about the president's ability to deliver a strong deal.
As COP28 faces the crucial decision on fossil fuel phase-out, climate activists, including Mohammed Adow from Powershift Africa, emphasize the need for negotiators to work diligently to ensure a just and equitable resolution.
Adow warns that the president's comments serve as a wake-up call, indicating a lack of support for strong outcomes on fossil fuel phase-out and urging action to safeguard the planet for future generations.