Cop28 chief insists he ‘respects climate science’ in bid to quell uproar over oil phase-out comments

The embattled Cop28 chief Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber has insisted that the UAE presidency of the UN climate summit “very much respects science” amid an uproar over his comments questioning the need to phase out fossil fuels.

Speaking at the Cop28 presidency’s daily news conference on Monday, Mr Jaber claimed his statement was taken “out of context”.

During an online event alongside former Irish president Mary Robinson last month, Mr Jaber insisted a phase-out of oil would not be compatible with sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves”.

Urged by Ms Robinson to commit, as Cop28 host and chief executive of the UAE’s state-owned oil company, to phase out fossil fuels in order to tackle “an absolute crisis that is hurting women and children more than anyone”, Mr Jaber called the suggestion “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,” he said.

The comments, first reported by The Guardian, rippled through the Dubai summit on Sunday and were met with condemnation by climate groups and scientists who branded it “alarming” and “science-denying”.

Mr Jaber told journalists on Monday at Expo City in Dubai: “We very much believe and respect the science.

“I am determined to deliver the most ambitious response to the global stocktake,” he said, referring to the first five-yearly UN assessment of where countries stand in tackling the climate crisis.

Sir David King, founder and chair of the UK Climate Crisis Advisory Group, said the Cop28 chief’s comments were “incredibly concerning” and it is “surprising to hear reports of the COP28 president defend[ing] the use of fossil fuels, and to learn that he is supposedly unaware of the viability of renewable alternatives.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the branch of the UN tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change, released a statemenet after Mr Jaber’s comments underlining its concerns, and branding the phasing out of fossil fuels “non-negotiable”.

The Cop28 presidency told The Independent on Sunday that the reports about Mr Jaber’s resurfaced comments were “just another attempt to undermine the presidency’s agenda”.

“The Cop president was unwavering in saying reaching 1.5C 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 1.5C within reach,” the statement said.

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