Cop28′s UAE president says there is ‘no science’ supporting need to phase out fossil fuels

Sultan Al Jaber made comments in ill-tempered responses to Mary Robinson

Cop28 president Sultan Ahmed 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 degrees, it has emerged.

The Guardian and Centre for Climate Reporting revealed Mr 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, published on Sunday, were “incredibly concerning” and “verging on climate denial”, scientists told the Guardian, and at odds with the position of António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general.

Mr Al Jaber made the comments in ill-tempered responses to questions from Mary Robinson, the former Irish president and chair of the Elders group, during a live online event on November 21st. As well as running Cop28, he is the chief executive of the UAE state oil company, Adnoc.


More than 100 countries already support a phase-out of fossil fuels. Whether the final Cop28 agreement calls for this, or uses weaker language such as “phase-down”, is one of the most fiercely fought issues at the summit and may be the key determinant of its success.

Deep and rapid cuts are needed to bring fossil fuel emissions to zero and limit fast-worsening climate impacts.

Climate scientist Prof Joeri Rogelj of Imperial College London said of the Cop28 president’s claim: “[He] believes there is no science showing fossil fuels must be phased out to meet 1.5 degrees. I strongly recommend him asking around for the latest [UN] IPCC report.

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“That report, approved unanimously by 195 countries including the UAE, shows a variety of ways to limit warming to 1.5 degrees – all of which indicate a de facto phase-out of fossil fuels in the first half of the century.”

He added: “Will that take the world back to the caves? Absolutely not, except to cool off during the next excruciating heatwave maybe. Research published just a week ago shows that ending extreme poverty has a negligible impact on global emissions. Less than 5 per cent of today’s emissions until 2050 and potentially as little as half a per cent.”

A spokesman for the Cop28 presidency said in response: “This story is just another attempt to undermine the presidency’s agenda, which has been clear and transparent and backed by tangible achievements by the COP President and his team.”

Sultan Al-Jaber has been unwavering in saying reaching 1.5 degrees “involves action across a number of areas and sectors. The COP President is clear that phasing down and out of fossil fuels is inevitable and that we must keep 1.5 degrees within reach. We are not sure what this story was supposedly revealing. Nothing in it is new or breaking news”, he added.

As COP28 continues this week, he said the COP president is focused on working with parties to deliver a plan that will deliver maximum transition and minimal disruption for everyone in the world. “He has repeatedly communicated our position on fossil fuels and invited all parties to work together and come up with solutions that can achieve alignment, common ground and consensus. Once again, we are excited with the progress we have made so far and for the delivery of an ambitious GST [global stocktake] decision. Attempts to undermine this will not soften our resolve.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times