The president of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, has claimed there is “no science” indicating that a phase-out of fossil fuels is needed to restrict global heating to 1.5˚C, the Guardian and the Centre for Climate Reporting can reveal.
Al Jaber also said a phase-out of fossil fuels would not allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves”.
The comments were “incredibly concerning” and “verging on climate denial”, scientists said, and they were at odds with the position of the UN secretary general, António Guterres.
Prof Sir David King, the chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group and a former UK chief scientific adviser, said: “It is incredibly concerning and surprising to hear the COP28 president defend the use of fossil fuels. It is undeniable that to limit global warming to 1.5˚C we must all rapidly reduce carbon emissions and phase-out the use of fossil fuels by 2035 at the latest. The alternative is an unmanageable future for humanity.”
Dr Friederike Otto, of Imperial College London, UK, said:“The science of climate change has been clear for decades: we need to stop burning fossil fuels. A failure to phase out fossil fuels at COP28 will put several millions more vulnerable people in the firing line of climate change. This would be a terrible legacy for COP28.”
Otto also rejected the claim that fossil fuels were necessary for development in poorer countries, saying that the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “shows that the UN’s sustainable development goals are not achievable by continuing the current fossil-driven high emission economies. [There are] massive co-benefits that come with changing to a fossil-free world”.
The issue of a phase-out or phase-down is complicated by the terms not having agreed definitions and by the highly uncertain role of technologies to “abate” emissions, such as carbon capture and storage. “Keeping the Paris agreement targets alive will require a full fossil fuel phase-out, not a vague phase-down relying on unproven technologies,” said Otto.
Numerous commentators have said that negative or embarrassing revelations about Al Jaber and Adnoc increase the pressure on him to deliver a strong COP28 deal. The Guardian reported recently that state-run UAE oil and gas fields had been flaring gas almost daily despite having committed 20 years ago to a policy of zero routine flaring.
The Guardian previously reported that Adnoc had been able to read emails to and from the COP28 office until the Guardian raised the issue in June and that the UAE had also failed to report its oil industry’s emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.