The President of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, has publicly denied the necessity of a fossil fuel phase-out to limit global heating to 1.5°C. Al Jaber made these comments during an online event in response to probing questions from Mary Robinson, former UN special envoy for climate change and Chair of the Elders group.

Sultan Al Jaber is Chief Executive at Adnoc, the UAE’s state oil company.

The COP28 President claimed that “no science” supports the idea that a fossil fuel phase-out is required. He argued that such a move would hinder sustainable development and would send the world back to the caves.

Many described Al Jaber’s comments as “incredibly concerning” and “verging on climate denial.” This disagreement with the scientific community puts Al Jaber at odds with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who continues to highlight the need for deep and rapid cuts in fossil fuel emissions to meet climate goals.

Over 100 countries have already supported a fossil fuel phase-out, setting the stage for a contentious debate at COP28. The final agreement’s wording, whether calling for a “phase-out” or opting for weaker terms like “phase-down,” is expected to be a critical point of debate that could determine the summit’s success.

The controversy unfolded during a She Changes Climate event where Al Jaber engaged in a heated discussion with Mary Robinson. Robinson highlighted the urgent climate crisis, particularly its impact on vulnerable populations, and attributed it to the lack of commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. She suggested that, as the head of Adnoc, Al Jaber could bring more credibility to the commitment.

Al Jaber, however, dismissed the idea, accusing Robinson of relying on biased and incorrect media sources. He pointed out his authority and rejected what he perceived as alarmist discussions, calling for a roadmap that allows for a fossil fuel phase-out while ensuring sustainable socioeconomic development.

Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, noted that Al Jaber’s comment about “sending the world back to caves” is a fossil fuel industry trope and verges on climate denial.