DUBAI: The Emirati head of the UN climate conference insisted on Monday that he respects climate science after he came under fire over a leaked video in which he questioned the science on fossil fuels. Amid tough talks over the future of fossil fuels, Sultan Al-Jaber, who is also head of UAE national oil company ADNOC, hit out at “repeated attempts to undermine” the work of the COP28 presidency in Dubai.
“We’re here because we very much believe and respect the science,” Jaber told a press conference there. Showing how touchy the issue has become, Jim Skea, the head of the UN body tasked with assessing climate science, appeared alongside Jaber to face reporters. He said Jaber “has been attentive to the science as we have discussed it and I think has fully understood it.”
Jaber said global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 43 percent by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels — a reduction outlined by Shea’s UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Guardian newspaper published a video on Sunday showing Jaber having a testy exchange with former Irish president Mary Robinson during an online forum.
“I’m not in any way signing up to a discussion that is alarmist,” Jaber told the SHE Changes Climate online conference on Nov 21. “I am factual and I respect the science, and there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuels is what’s going to achieve 1.5 (degrees).”
The video sparked an outcry among NGOs, which were already outraged by the appointment of an oil company boss to head the crucial climate negotiations. “If the COP28 president is guided by science and 1.5C remains his north star, he must draw the right conclusions: Nothing short of a full and rapid phase out of fossil fuels will get us there,” said Romain Ioualalen, of Oil Change International.
Jaber said Monday that he has said “over and over that the phase down and the phase out of fossil fuel is inevitable”. Although he also said it in the video, Jaber had previously only talked publicly of the inevitability of a “phase-down” — a weaker term as it implies that fossil fuels would not completely go away. Adding to the confusion, the website of the COP28 presidency published a summary of the first few days of the talks which said that 22 heads of state and ministers discussed “the phase down of fossil fuels”.
It did not mention a phase-out, which many heads of state and government and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for during speeches on Friday and Saturday. A first draft of a COP28 agreement released on Friday included both options — a “phasedown/out” of fossil fuels, which are the largest contributors to climate change. Negotiators must now find common ground during talks due to end on Dec 12, with an agreement on the fossil fuels seen as key to the success of COP28.
Participants in the talks told AFP that the European Union, several Latin American countries and island nations back the 1.5C target, which implies a rapid phase-out. Other developed countries, including oil producers such as the United States, Canada, Norway and Australia also defend the 1.5C goal but with less ambitious paths out of fossil fuels.
Most African countries back a phase-out but with a longer delay for developing nations. Major producers Russia and Saudi Arabia and top consumer China oppose mentioning fossil fuels in the text. Jaber pleaded for the process to be given “the space it needs. And if anything, judge us on what we will deliver at the end of this COP.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister dismissed Western donations to a new climate loss and damage fund as “small change” as he trumpeted Riyadh’s pledges of cash to developing countries on Monday. Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter but not a contributor to the new UN fund, had earmarked $50 billion for climate adaptation in Africa.
The loss and damage fund for vulnerable nations, a major win at the start of the COP28 climate talks in Dubai, has attracted about $655 million so far from donors including the European Union and the United States, a sum criticized as insufficient by campaigners.
“Unlike the small change offered for loss and damage from our partners in developed countries, the kingdom through its South-South cooperation announced in the Saudi Africa Summit in Riyadh last month the allocation of up to $50 billion,” Prince Abdulaziz said in a video message to the Saudi Green Initiative forum, held on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai. “This will help build resilient infrastructure and strengthen climate resilience and adaptation in the African continent directly through Saudi stakeholders.”
The prince’s remarks were the latest sign of sharp differences around tackling the climate crisis as negotiators from around the world attempt to hammer out an agreement in Dubai. Saudi Arabia has revamped its energy sources, invested in renewables and improved energy-efficiency as it tries to decarbonize its economy by 2030, Prince Abdulaziz said. But that target does not include emissions from the 8.9 million barrels of oil a day exported by Saudi Arabia.
Africa and its energy mix is an area of focus for both Saudi and the UAE, which in September pledged $4.5 billion for clean-energy investments in the continent. “You cannot go to undeveloped countries or developing countries and ask them to do the same measures of the transition,” Yasir Al-Rumayyan, chairman of Saudi state oil giant Aramco, told the forum.
“Especially people who don’t have access to the energy.” He said he heard an African minister say “in order for us to have growth, we have to carbonize first then to decarbonize. “Maybe the bottom line is we should be less idealistic and more practical,” he added. At the Saudi-Africa Summit last month — where the kingdom unveiled a $45-billion investment package for the continent — Prince Abdulaziz said attempts to provide financial support for poor nations hit by climate change had produced poor results. – Agencies