Mary Robinson reiterates call for fossil fuel phase-out based on science

First response to controversy over testy exchange with Cop28 president comes via X

In her first comment since the row erupted over the Cop28 president’s controversial response to her questions on fossil fuels, chair of the Elders Mary Robinson has reiterated the need for their phase-out based on what science says is required.

Early on Tuesday she posted on X: “A successful Cop28 is not about a single individual or nation, but the collective will and concerted efforts of all countries in these negotiations. The science compels: phase out fossil fuels rapidly, accelerate renewable energy adoption, and radically scaled up finance.”

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who is the main negotiator at the climate talks in Dubai, was forced to fiercely defend his respect for climate science on Monday, having told Mrs Robinson on November 21st that there was “no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5 degrees” – a view strongly rejected by many scientists since the story was published by the Guardian on Sunday.

In the response issued by the Elders, she did not mention the Cop28 president, who is also chief executive of the UAE state oil company, by name. Mrs Robinson is due at Cop28 later this week.


The message was linked to the Elders “calls to action” issued in advance of Cop28, which emphasises the need to “stop funding what is harming us and start funding what is needed to secure a liveable future for all”.

It added: “Demand the need for clear fossil fuel phase out language in the final Cop28 decisions text. Do what is needed to support a just transition for workers and their families while phasing in renewable energy for all.”

The Elders called for “removal of all perverse subsidies that create or exacerbate environmental and social harms, in particular fossil fuel subsidies and harmful fertiliser subsidies, while protecting the poorest and most vulnerable.

They also sought recognition that “abatement solutions, such as carbon capture or geoengineering, cannot replace the need for rapid emissions reductions”.

Carbon capture and storage technologies have been a big issue in Dubai with indications that big oil states want their use referenced in a final text decision. Opponents say they are costly, unproven at scale and will likely be used by oil and gas companies as a way of continuing to produce fossil fuels.

Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, said in response to the exchange: “It’s clear that the comments by Al Jaber were a moment where the mask slipped and all his warm words about being a climate champion were revealed as greenwashing. When someone shows you what they are, we should believe them. He showed that when pushed, he lashed out with the climate denial lines proposed by the fossil fuel industry for years.”

“This Cop will be remembered for one thing: whether or not we get a fossil fuel phase-out date agreed or whether we don’t,” Adow said. “Actions speak louder than words and if we don’t get that phase out date, this Cop will be remembered as the one that was overseen by an oil baron.”

Former US vice-president Al Gore was also outspoken, telling the New York Times:

“From the moment this absurd masquerade began, it was only a matter of time before [Al Jaber’s] preposterous disguise no longer concealed the reality of the most brazen conflict of interest in the history of climate negotiations. Obviously, the world needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

Mr Gore noted Al Jaber “has been preparing one of the most aggressive expansions of fossil fuel production, timed to begin as soon as he bangs the final gavel to conclude Cop28″.

US climate envoy John Kerry, who is closely involved in the Cop28 negotiations and has previously supported Al Jaber, remained diplomatic. He told Politico that Al Jaber’s “no science” comment may require “clarification”. He added: “Maybe it came out the wrong way. Look, he’s gotta decide how he wants to phrase it, but the bottom line is this Cop needs to be committed to phasing out all unabated fossil fuel.” More than 100 countries are calling for that commitment. – Additional reporting Guardian

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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