Simmering tensions over the decision to hold a global climate summit in an oil-rich state came to light on Monday when Sultan Al Jaber, the Emirati oil official leading the conference, launched into an angry public defense of its position on ending the use of fossil fuels.
Mr Al Jaber, who heads state-owned oil company Adnoc, was criticized for a video that emerged in which he said there was «no science» behind the idea that fossil fuels must be phased out in order to to maintain the global average. temperatures are expected to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
According to scientists, this is the threshold beyond which humans would struggle to adapt to increasingly violent storms, drought, heat and rising sea levels caused by the global warming.
Climate experts convened by the United Nations have said countries must cut emissions from fossil fuels by 43% by the end of this decade, compared to 2019 levels, if the world has any hope of limiting the warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Many diplomats and scientists say this would be impossible without phasing out fossil fuels and want governments to emerge from the climate talks taking place in Dubai by pledging to end the use of coal, oil and gas.
“The 1.5 degree limit is only possible if we finally stop burning all fossil fuels,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday. “No reduction. No reduction. Gradual removal. With a clear calendar aligned to 1.5 degrees.
But Mr Al Jaber, who is expected to guide nearly 200 countries towards an ambitious plan to combat global warming, put it differently in his comments two weeks ago.
“There is no science, no scenario, that says phasing out fossil fuels is what will get to 1.5,” Al Jaber said during a panel discussion titled She changes climate which featured Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who is now a prominent climate advocate.
Ms Robinson asked Mr Al Jaber if he would lead a global effort to reduce and then end the burning of fossil fuels. He chastised her for asking the question, saying he expected a «sober and mature conversation» and not one that was «alarmist.»
The roundtable took place two weeks ago but only came to light on Sunday when Mr Al Jaber’s comments were reported by The Guardian.
“Please help me, show me a road map for phasing out fossil fuels that will enable sustainable socio-economic development, unless you want to put the world back in caves,” a- he told the panel.
His remarks ignited a storm during the climate negotiations known as COP28.
Former Vice President Al Gore, who called for replacing fossil fuels with wind, solar and other renewable energy, attacked Mr. Al Jaber.
“From the moment this absurd charade began, it was only a matter of time before its absurd disguise no longer concealed the reality of the most egregious conflict of interest in the history of climate negotiations,” he said. Mr. Gore said in an email. “Clearly, the world needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible. »
He said Mr Al Jaber is “preparing one of the most aggressive expansions of fossil fuel production, which is expected to begin as soon as he hits the final gavel to conclude COP28”.
But on Monday, a defiant Mr Al Jaber suggested he had not said what he could be heard saying in the video. And he said anyone who claimed otherwise was trying to undermine his leadership at COP28.
Addressing a crowded and hastily organized news conference, Mr. Al Jaber appeared to take the criticism personally and described his background as an economist and engineer. “I respect science in everything I do,” he said.
“I have repeatedly said that the phase-down and elimination of fossil fuels is inevitable,” Mr Al Jaber said.
He insisted he had repeatedly called for a phase-out of fossil fuels and said his efforts on climate change had been ignored by the media.
Mr Al Jaber appeared aggrieved, saying «a statement, taken out of context, with misrepresentations and misinterpretation, which is getting maximum coverage.»
The planet has already warmed by around 1.2 degrees since the industrial revolution, driven by the burning of coal, oil and gas.
Jim Skea, chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said on Monday, while sitting next to Mr Al Jaber, that fossil fuels should be «significantly reduced» by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Coal-fired plants without technology to capture and store emissions should be phased out completely, he said.
The fossil fuel industry responded to suggestions of a phase-out by saying the technology could capture and store carbon emissions, allowing it to continue operating. But scientists largely agree that the technologies the oil industry depends on, like carbon capture and storage, cannot be deployed at the scale or pace required to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. .
David Gelles contributed reporting from Dubai.