COP28's UAE chair says 'we respect' climate science despite video leak denying fossil fuels' impact

AFP , Monday 4 Dec 2023

The Emirati head of the UN climate conference insisted on Monday that he respects climate science after he came under fire over a leaked video in which he questions the science on fossil fuels.

Sultan Al Jaber
COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during a press conference at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 4, 2023. AFP


Amid tough negotiations over the future of fossil fuels, Sultan Al Jaber, who is also head of UAE national oil company ADNOC, hit out at "repeated attempts to undermine" the work of the COP28 presidency.

"We're here because we very much believe and respect the science," Jaber told reporters.

"Everything this presidency has been working on is focused on and centred around the science," Jaber said.

He acknowledged that global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 43 percent by 2030 as part of efforts to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

The Guardian newspaper published a video on Sunday showing Jaber having a testy exchange with former Irish president Mary Robinson during an online forum.

"I'm not in any way signing up to a discussion that is alarmist," Jaber told the SHE Changes Climate online conference on November 21.

"I am factual and I respect the science, and there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuels is what's going to achieve 1.5 (degrees)."

The video sparked an outcry among NGOs.

"If the COP28 president is guided by science and 1.5C remains his north star, he must draw the right conclusions: nothing short of a full and rapid phase out of fossil fuels will get us there," said Romain Ioualalen, global policy lead for Oil Change International.

Phase down or out?

Jaber said Monday that he has said "over and over that the phase down and the phase out of fossil fuel is inevitable".

Although he also said it in the video, in the past, Jaber had only publicly talked of the inevitability of a "phase-down" -- a weaker term as it implies that fossil fuels would not completely go away in the future.

A first draft of a COP28 agreement released on Friday included language on a "phasedown/out" of fossil fuels, which account for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the negotiations behind closed doors have become complicated as all sides push for their own priorities.

On the COP28 presidency's website on Monday, a summary of the first few days of the talks said that 22 heads of state and ministers discussed "the phase down of fossil fuels".

It did not mention a phase-out, which many heads of state and government and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for during speeches on Friday and Saturday.

Scientists, activists and several nations say oil, gas and coal must be phased out and replaced with solar, wind and other renewable technology to prevent the planet from overheating.

An agreement on the role of fossil fuels is seen as key to the success of the UN talks, which end on December 12.

Data showing 2023 is going to be the hottest year on record has added a sense of urgency to the talks.

"Please let's give the process the space it needs," Jaber said. "And if anything, judge us on what we will deliver at the end of this COP."

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