A clash at Cop28

Dr Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber
Dr Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber

Dubai was always an interesting choice of venue for the UN’s annual climate change conference. As one of the world’s leading producers of oil and gas, the United Arab Emirates was not the most obvious host for around 70,000 delegates, most of whom want to end its source of wealth, preferably overnight.

The evident thinking was that staging Cop28 in the UAE was a demonstration that even petro-economies had bought fully into the pressing need to reduce global CO2 emissions and had endorsed the science behind it.

As it turns out, however, the hosts are not that convinced after all. The president of the summit, Dr Sultan Al-Jaber, has claimed there is “no science” indicating that a phase-out of fossil fuels is needed to restrict global heating to the UN target of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Moreover, he said a phase-out of fossil fuels would not allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves”.

Inevitably, Dr Al-Jaber, who is also the chief executive of the United Arab Emirates’ state oil company, Adnoc, has been denounced for comments “verging on climate denial”, an offence considered in some quarters nowadays to be a crime against humanity. Few, if any, of the delegates attending the conference would say what he has said even if they believed it. The science is said to be “settled” and brooks no doubt. It is reported on media outlets like the BBC as a fact.

Yet Dr Al-Jaber is not resiling from a commitment to a low carbon future but rather questioning the feasibility of eradicating fossil fuels in a world that still relies heavily upon them. That is still a circle the campaigners have yet to square.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.