An Emirati oil executive has landed in hot water after claiming that there's "no science" behind phasing out fossil fuels to keep global temperatures from creeping above 1.5 degrees Celsius, an internationally agreed-upon climate benchmark.
His comment, made during a panel led by former UN special envoy for climate change Mary Robinson, particularly struck a nerve as Sultan Al Jaber is currently leading the ongoing COP28 conference, an international climate summit in Dubai.
The conflict of interest is palpable. Al Jaber is CEO of Adnoc, the largest drilling company in the Middle East that's gearing up to expand its drilling ventures considerably.
According to the Global Oil and Gas Exit List, a public database that keeps track of the activities of oil and gas ventures, the Al Jaber-led state oil company has far and away the biggest plans to expand oil and gas production in the world.
"There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says the phaseout of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5," Al Jaber said during the panel discussion, adding that he refused to be part of an "alarmist" discussion.
Unsurprisingly, the preposterous claim from the oil executive sparked a considerable amount of outrage.
"I read that your company is investing in a lot more fossil fuel in the future," Robinson shot back.
"You’re reading your own media, which is biased and wrong," Al Jaber retorted. "I am telling you I am the man in charge."
Yikes. Did we mention the panel discussion was about a global campaign to empower women in leading climate action?
To state the obvious, the research is very explicit on the need to stop burning fossil fuels.
"The science is clear," UN secretary general António Guterres told delegates at the summit. "The 1.5C limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce, not abate. Phase out, with a clear timeframe."
And his critics didn't beat around the bush in denouncing his comment.
"From the moment this absurd masquerade began, it was only a matter of time before his preposterous disguise no longer concealed the reality of the most brazen conflict of interest in the history of climate negotiations," former vice president Al Gore told the New York Times in an email.
"Obviously, the world needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible," he added, noting that Al Jaber "has been preparing one of the most aggressive expansions of fossil fuel production, timed to begin as soon as he bangs the final gavel to conclude COP28."
In comments to The Guardian, Climate Analytics chief executive Bill Hare called Al Jaber's comments "an extraordinary, revealing, worrying and belligerent exchange."
"Sending us back to caves’ is the oldest of fossil fuel industry tropes," he added. "It's verging on climate denial."
Following the outrage, Al Jaber didn't back down on his claim, complaining that his "one statement" was "taken out of context."
"I have said over and over that the phase-down and the phaseout of fossil fuels is inevitable," he told an impromptu press conference this week, as quoted by the NYT.
In short, COP28 is quickly turning into nothing more than a distraction. Worse yet, leaked documents revealed that the United Arab Emirates is planning to use climate meetings like it to promote oil and gas companies.
More on climate change: 15,000 Scientists Warn Society Could Collapse By 2100 Due to Climate Change
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