The president of the climate summit being held in Dubai, known as COP28, had to come out publicly on Monday to clarify his position on fossil fuels after the controversy raised by some of his words pronounced nine days before the start of this international conference. Sultan al-Jaber, the UAE's Minister of Industry, said in an online meeting on November 21 that "there is no science" to support the claim that "phasing out fossil fuels is what will allow us to reach 1.5°C," referring to the goal set by the Paris Agreement. In that same talk and in response to questions from Mary Robinson, former UN special envoy for climate change, the COP28 president added: "Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuels that will enable sustainable socio-economic development, unless you want to take the world back to caves."
At a press conference on Monday, Al Jaber stressed that he has great respect for science. And, on his stance, he has noted: "The phasing out and phasing out of fossil fuels is inevitable and, in fact, essential." Something very similar was also stated by the president of COP28 in the same talk broadcast on Sunday by the British newspaper The Guardian.
That conversation between Al Jaber and Robinson exuded tension. And the first thing the president of COP28 wanted to do on Monday was to show his "respect" for Robinson and science when he was questioned about this matter by a journalist. He then attacked the "misinterpretation" of his words and the "attacks" that the presidency of this summit, which is held by the United Arab Emirates, is suffering.
A few days before the start of this international conference, through other journalistic information, some alleged documents from the presidency of COP28 were leaked that pointed out that this country could use the summit to close trade agreements with other nations for the use of fossil fuels. It took Al Jaber two days to answer and when he did it was to deny it. "These allegations are false, not true, incorrect and not accurate," said the UAE minister, who vowed that he has never seen or used those documents in his meetings. He added: "Do you think that the UAE or I myself need the COP or the COP presidency to establish trade agreements or trade relations?"
Every year the climate summit is held in one region of the planet and this year's summit was Asia's turn. The United Arab Emirates submitted its candidacy and the rest of the nations in the region supported it. But a first controversy was generated when it became known at the beginning of the year that Al Jaber was the proposal of this country to preside over the international conference. Because in addition to having represented his country on several occasions in these climate negotiations, he is the CEO of his country's national oil and gas company, ADNOC, one of the largest crude oil companies in the world.
The rules of this type of negotiation protected by the UN require the president of the conference to have a position of neutrality in order to reach consensus. One of the main debates at COP28, if not the most important, focuses precisely on achieving an explicit call for the phase-out or phasing out of fossil fuels. The countries have already been divided into two blocs depending on whether they support this explicit call (as advocated by the European Union) or if they do not see it as possible (as India has said, for example).
That is why the statements made by Al Jaber in that talk, which was broadcast live on the internet, have generated so much controversy. The Third Vice-President and Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, said on Monday from Dubai that "it is impossible" to stay below 1.5 degrees "without a sharp decline in fossil fuels".
The Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, this Monday in Dubai. ALI HAIDER (EFE)
Al Jaber, at the same press conference, also tried to vindicate the role that the United Arab Emirates is playing at the forefront of COP28, with the historic agreement reached at the beginning of the summit for the implementation of the new loss and damage fund for the countries most vulnerable to climate change. In addition, he stressed that his presidency has not avoided the debate on the phase-out of fossil fuels and has included it in the first texts of the negotiations.
In its latest review of scientific knowledge on climate change, the IPCC, the international panel of experts linked to the UN, made it clear that fossil fuels are primarily responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, climate change. And he pointed out that by 2050 the global use of coal, oil and gas will have to be reduced by 100%, 60% and 70%, respectively, compared to 2019 levels if the temperature is to be kept below 1.5 degrees. Carbon capture and storage measures, which are currently marginal and costly, would soften these reductions somewhat.
"Let's clarify where I stand on science... Honestly, I think there is some confusion and misrepresentation. First, let me introduce myself. I am an engineer by training. It's science and my respect for science and my conviction for science and passion for science that has allowed me to progress in my career."
He said he has supplemented this with "entrepreneurial and economic skills" to progress his career.
He added: "The reduction and phasing out of fossil fuels... it's essential. It has to be orderly, fair, equitable and accountable."
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