COP28 President Says There's "No Science" That Connects Fossil Fuels to Reducing Global Warming

Eva Hagan - Author

Dec. 7 2023, Updated 11:26 a.m. ET

COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber stands at a podium with a microphone speaking to a crowd at the COP28 conference in Dubai.
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 president, has said that cutting fossil fuels will not help in reducing global warming.

  • As CEO of ADNOC, a major oil company, Al Jaber's appointment as COP28 president has been disapproved by many.

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The president of COP28 is turning some heads with his stance on fossil fuels, which seems to deny climate science.

The Conference of Parties, aka COP, is the United Nations' annual gathering of countries to review the Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change. It gathers politicians, scientists, and industry leaders to discuss how countries should adapt for the future.

In November and December of 2023, COP28 is being held in Dubai, led by United Arab Emirates oil businessman and politician Sultan Al Jaber. Al Jaber is CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and has argued that phasing out fossil fuels is not the answer for keeping global warming below the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Al Jaber has since said his words were misinterpreted, but has still argued for the continued use of fossil fuels.

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COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber stands at a podium with his hands out wide while talking in front of a screen that says "Dubai 2023."
Source: Getty Images

COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber made a comment denying fossil fuels' connection to science.

The president of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, has brewed some controversy after stating that decreasing fossil fuels would not help curb global warming. According to The Guardian, during a She Changes Climate event on Dec. 3, 2023, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson spoke to Al Jaber on cutting fossil fuels, and his role as COP28 president and head of ADNOC.

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Al Jaber said: “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’s comment is concerning, considering that there is ample research showing that fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change. According to the UN, fossil fuels account for over 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. What’s more, according to CNN, by 2030, fossil fuel production is projected to reach double the limit needed to stay below the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold.

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In a statement responding to Al Jaber’s comments, the organization Oil Change International’s global policy lead, Romain Ioualalen said: “COP28 President Al Jaber’s science-denying statements are alarming and raise deep concerns about the Presidency’s capacity to lead the UN climate talks, at a time when leadership and a clear vision are most needed.”

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And per The Guardian, Professor Sir David King, a former U.K. chief scientific adviser and chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group said in response to Al Jaber: “It is incredibly concerning and surprising to hear the COP28 president defend the use of fossil fuels. It is undeniable that to limit global warming to 1.5C we must all rapidly reduce carbon emissions and phase-out the use of fossil fuels by 2035 at the latest.”

COP28 president Al Jaber stands at a podium at COP28 with his hands together while speaking and wearing a pin that says "COP28 UAE"
Source: Getty Images
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Al Jaber said his comments about fossil fuels and science were misinterpreted.

Al Jaber backtracked on his comments at a press conference the following day, Dec. 4.

“One statement taken out of context, with misrepresentation and misinterpretation, that gets maximum coverage,” he stated, as reported by The Guardian.

“I respect the science in everything I do. I have repeatedly said that it is the science that has guided the principles or strategy as COP28 president. We have always built everything, every step of the way, on the science, on the facts,” he continued.

“I have said over and over the phase-down and the phase-out of fossil fuel is inevitable. In fact, it is essential,” he added, somewhat contradicting his earlier statements.

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Sultan Al Jaber's comments aren't all that surprising considering his role at oil company ADNOC.

Sultan Al Jaber is the CEO of ADNOC, or Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which pumps millions of barrels of crude oil per day. If you are confused as to why he is president of COP28, you aren’t the only one.

Al Jaber has argued that fossil fuel companies need to play a larger role in climate change decision-making in order to yield progress. He claimed that attacking industries is not the answer. According to The New York Times, Al Jaber once said: “Why are we fighting industries? Fighting emissions should focus on reducing emissions across the board, whether it’s oil and gas, whether it’s industry, regardless of what it is.”

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However, Al Jaber's role as oil company CEO and president of COP28 is contradictory and contested by many. A climate solutions conference led by someone whose livelihood is dependent on extracting fossil fuels seems more than questionable. Because of this, over 130 US and EU lawmakers have called on the United Nations for Al Jaber’s removal, to no avail, per The BBC.

This article, originally published on Dec. 4, 2023, has been updated to include more comments from Al Jaber.

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