The host of the United Nations’ COP28 climate change summit cast doubt on whether eliminating fossil fuels would help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, saying there is “no science” behind it. Scientists told The Guardian, which first reported the comments, that his remarks are “incredibly concerning” and “verging on climate denial.”
“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,” Sultan Al-Jaber, who is CEO of United Arab Emirates state oil company ADNOC, said in November during an online SHE Changes Climate event. He also claimed that phasing out fossil fuels would “take the world back into caves.”
“Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development,” he said, “unless you want to take the world back into caves.”
Former vice president Al Gore critized the UAE for Al-Jaber’s appointment as president of COP28, saying the UAE is abusing public trust. “They are abusing the public’s trust by naming the CEO of one of the largest and least responsible oil companies in the world as head of the COP,” Gore told Reuters in an interview from the summit.
During his presentation to COP28, Gore called out the UAE for increasing its greenhouse gas emissions by 7.5 percent in 2022.
Al-Jaber made the comments in response to Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former UN special envoy for climate change, who urged him to push COP28 toward eliminating the use of oil, coal and gas. “We have not yet committed to phasing out fossil fuel,” Robinson said. “That is the one decision that COP28 can take under your presidency, and in many ways, because you’re head of ADNOC, you could actually take it with more credibility.”
Al-Jaber said, “1.5 is my North Star, and a phase down and 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.”
“The science is very acute now,” Robinson retorted. “We don’t have any time.”
Scientists at COP28 released a new report warning that without “a rapid and managed fossil fuel phase-out,” the 1.5C threshold is unobtainable, and surpassing it is almost inevitable.
Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics, told The Guardian that Robinson and Al-Jaber’s conversation was “an extraordinary, revealing, worrying and belligerent exchange.”
“‘Sending us back to caves’ is the oldest of fossil fuel industry tropes: it’s verging on climate denial,” he added.
Al-Jaber’s stance contradicts the position taken by the UN and Secretary General António Guterres, who told COP28 delegates on Friday that eliminating fossil fuels is necessary to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius: “The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate.”
Environmental activists sounded the alarm in January when Al-Jaber was announced to lead the 2023 COP, expressing concern that his position as an oil executive constitutes a conflict of interest. “Like last year’s summit, we’re increasingly seeing fossil fuel interests taking control of the process and shaping it to meet their own needs,” Teresa Anderson, global lead of climate justice at ActionAid, said in a statement at the time.
The summit, which runs through Dec. 12, is charged with putting together a climate agreement, though it remains to be seen whether that agreement will call for a phase out or phase down of fossil fuels. Currently, more than 100 countries in Africa, Europe, the Pacific, and the Caribbean back phasing out widespread fossil fuel use.
This breaking news post has been updated to include Al Gore’s comments.
More from Rolling Stone
Best of Rolling Stone