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COP28 Leader Criticized for Saying ‘No Science’ Behind Need To End Fossil Fuels

Comments made by the president of the United Nations’ global climate talks, known as COP28, have been criticized by climate activists and policy makers after audio surfaced by The Guardian that reveals Sultan Al-Jaber appearing to say that there is “no science” behind demands to entirely phase-out fossil fuels to meet climate goals.

Sultan Al-Jaber, who also chairs the United Arab Emirates’ state-sponsored oil company ADNOC, as well as a renewable energy company, made the comments at a Nov. 21 meeting prior to COP28, which is now ongoing in Dubai.

“I respect the science, and there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says a phase-out of fossil fuels is what is going to achieve 1.5.”

The “1.5” is a reference to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the ambitious target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement for warming above pre-industrial levels. It remains the primary goal, though many scientists think it may be out of reach. The long-standing and widely-accepted scientific consensus is that to halt climate change, the world must end its reliance on fossil fuels.

Al-Jaber immediately added that 1.5 degrees is his “North Star,” and that ridding the world of fossil fuels was “inevitable.” Still, he said that “we need to be real, serious and pragmatic about it.”

Climate activists criticized Al-Jaber’s comments, however, as casting doubts on the science. Romain Ioualalen, global policy lead at the non-profit Oil Change International, said in a statement that the COP28 leader’s statements were “alarming and raise deep concerns.” Another climate scientist described the statement as “farcical” on X, formerly Twitter.

The United States’ climate secretary, John Kerry, said in an interview with CNBC that the Sultan’s comments distract from the point of the talks, and that “every decision we make should be geared to say, ‘Does this advance the 1.5 degrees or is it going to be more destructive and take us in the wrong direction?'”

A major focal point for the talks in Dubai is getting countries to sign on to an agreement to “phase-down” or “phase-out” fossil fuels, with the language proving a sticking point. Some countries disagree with the “phase-out” language because it may affect economic development, while others insist it is essential to curb climate change, and for some countries, like low-lying Pacific islands, to prevent the destruction of entire nations.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres offered a stark warning on Friday making clear his position.

“The science is clear,” he said. “The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate. Phaseout.”

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