COP28 president says that there is “no science” backing up calls for a fossil fuel phase-out

Dr Sultan Al Jaber’s claims were concerning to many and have faced backlash. Al Jaber has since attempted to clarify his previous statement.
December 13, 2023

Can the director of an oil company lead COP28 to success?


Before COP28 even started, concerns were raised about the Conference being hosted in Dubai by Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the managing director and group managing director of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC Group). Concerns about the COP28 presidency were heightened when it was reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) planned to use COP28 to make oil and gas deals. Read more on this here.


Al Jaber is also the Chairman of Masdar, a UAE renewable energy and green hydrogen company. Masdar’s work includes solar PV, concentrated solar power, wind, waste-to-energy, energy storage, and water collection projects.[i] Al Jaber’s role as Chairman of Masdar has been reported by major news outlets including the BBC, however, it has not tended to make headlines.[ii] Whilst large swathes of the climate movement do not see fossil fuel expansion as compatible with climate action, Al Jaber thinks differently. At the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference in October, he said,


"The world needs all the solutions it can get. It is oil and gas and solar, and wind and nuclear, and hydrogen plus the clean energies yet to be discovered, commercialised and deployed."[iii]


The Guardian reports that Sultan Al Jaber, the president of COP28, said that there is “no science” that shows that fossil fuels need to be phased out to reach the 1.5°C goal. This statement was made in response to questions from Mary Robinson, the chair of the Elders group and a former UN special envoy for climate change, during an online live event hosted by She Changes Climate on the 21st of November. Their exchange was as follows:


Robinson: “We’re in an absolute crisis that is hurting women and children more than anyone… and it’s because we have not yet committed to phasing out fossil fuel. That is the one decision that COP28 can take and in many ways, because you’re head of Adnoc, you could actually take it with more credibility.”


Al Jaber: “I accepted to come to this meeting to have a sober and mature conversation. I’m not in any way signing up to any discussion that is alarmist. There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C.”


Al Jaber also said,


“Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.”[iv]


This directly contradicts the stance of the UN Secretary-General


In June, António Guterres said that countries need to start “moving to leave oil, coal and gas in the ground where they belong”.[v]


Guterres has also posted his hopes for COP28 on his X account (formerly Twitter) during the first week on the Conference. These are:

1. Commitments to get nationally determined contributions in line with 1.5°C limit.

2. Fossil fuel phaseout & big investments in renewables.

3. Acceleration of climate justice.[vi]


Despite Al Jaber’s comments, small island states are still calling for a fossil fuel phaseout


Small island states at COP28 will continue to demand a phaseout of fossil fuels and will hold Sultan Al Jaber to account for this.[vii] It is currently small island states that are making up the majority of the countries who have signed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Source: Unsplash

Al Jaber has since said that his comments were misrepresented


He tried to clarify what he meant in this statement:


“And let me just clarify where I stand on the science. I honestly think there is some confusion out there, and misrepresentation, and misinterpretation. I’m an engineer by background. It’s the science, and my respect to the science, and my passion about the science, and it’s about my conviction to the science that have enabled me to progress in my career. So, science has been central to my own career progress. And yes, I respect the science in everything I do. I can’t not be clear about it. I am quite surprised with the constant and repeated attempts to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency, and the attempts to undermine the message we keep repeating when it comes to how much we respect the science and how we ensure that the science is what dictates our strategy for our strategic imperatives and the objectives we want to deliver at COP28.”[viii]



[i] Masdar- Our Projects

[ii] BBC- COP28: Why has an oil boss been chosen to head climate summit?

[iii] Ibid

[iv]  The Guardian- Cop28 president says there is ‘no science’ behind demands for phase-out of fossil fuels

[v] United Nations- Guterres calls for phasing out fossil fuels to avoid climate ‘catastrophe’

[vi] António Guterres- 3/12/2023

[vii] The Guardian- COP28 live

[viii] Sky News- COP28 president defence: ‘I respect science’

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Gemma Drake
Research Analyst

Gemma recently graduated with a degree in International Development. She is currently studying for an MSc in Sustainable Urbanism, which examines urban planning and urban design through a sustainability lens. “I’m passionate about addressing sustainability challenges in a holistic and pragmatic way. Zero Carbon Academy's diverse range of services targets many of the areas that need support if we are to transition to a liveable future. I’m excited to see the impact that the Academy makes.”

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