Sultan al-Jaber, center, who will preside over the next UN global climate summit in Dubai, talks to delegates at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, Thursday, June 8, 2023. AP
"The phase down of fossil fuels is inevitable," Sultan al-Jaber said on the sidelines of technical climate talks six months ahead of the summit.
"The speed at which this happens depends on how quickly we can phase up zero carbon alternatives, while ensuring energy security, accessibility and affordability," added Al Jaber, who runs the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc).
Al-Jaber defended a COP28 roadmap that includes a "global goal to triple renewable energy, double energy efficiency, and double clean hydrogen, all by 2030."
His comments came as numerous participants and observers in the UN climate negotiations have called on al-Jaber to explicitly acknowledge the importance of ending the use of fossil fuels, an objective no COP summit to date has been able to put down in writing.
Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, an African climate and energy think tank, told AFP that al-Jaber is right to acknowledge the inevitability of the phaseout of fossil fuels.
"Like a drug addict, we need to kick the habit if we're going to heal and start getting better," he said.
After coming close to getting a COP resolution to phase out fossil fuels in Glasgow in 2021, and again in Sharm-El-Sheikh in 2022, Adow said this was the year to get it done.
"Getting agreement on a total phaseout of all fossil fuels is important to set the direction of travel and it then allows the world to work out exactly the speed and scale of that phaseout," said Adow.
He said a managed phaseout as opposed to a chaotic end to fossil fuel use would be good news for oil and gas exporters like the UAE.
"The clean energy wave is coming, countries can either surf the wave or get washed away by it," Adow said.
On Wednesday, al-Jaber signed a statement with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen calling for transitioning away from fossil fuels except when carbon capture systems are in place, hinting at a possible compromise in the coming months between different camps in the negotiations.
"We must be laser-focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions, while phasing up viable, affordable zero carbon alternatives," al-Jaber said at an event in Germany last month.
The statement was interpreted at the time as a defence of oil and gas use as carbon capture technology is still not mature.
At the talks in Bonn, the exit from fossil fuel use dominated the talk among activists and experts who pointed to the fact that burning fossil fuels is by far the main driver of global warming.
Activists have organised protests at the Bonn talks calling for energy firms to be kicked out of the climate negotiations.