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What is COP28–When a Fossil Baron Leads Climate Change

What is COP28?

Conference of the Parties, COPs, are annual climate change conferences that aim to foster international collaboration to tackle climate change and other environmental issues. The conference serves as a platform to unite experts, activists, and leaders worldwide to debate urgent issues, make critical decisions, and mobilize collective action toward a sustainable future. The 28th of these conferences, Cop28, is hosted in the UAE and led by Sultan al Jaber, the minister of industry and advanced technology.

The Sultan Al Jaber Controversy

The Emirati minister is also the co-founder and current chairman of Masdar, a government-backed renewable energy company. More controversially, he heads ADNOC, Abu Dabhi National Oil Company. Due to Al Jaber’s ties to the oil company, US and EU lawmakers, scientists, and activists have strongly voiced dismay and expressed concern over him having skin in the game, making his judgment open to bias. Furthermore, the company doubled down on gas and oil production under his presidency. The company now bets on further oil capacity expansion despite its greenwashed image.

Cop28 was set to thrive under Sultan Al Jaber; however, he was instead aiming to use this opportunity to strike fossil fuel deals. On November 27, the non-profit Centre for Climate Reporting, alongside the BBC, unveiled documents outlining “talking points” prepared by UAE’s Cop28 team for meetings with at least 27 foreign governments. The leak exposed fossil fuel deals to be discussed with 15 nations, including Germany and China, the biggest carbon emitter. Earlier this year, in June, the Guardian had reported an “explosive” revelation: Adnoc could access emails to and from the Cop28 summit office and was consulted on various occasions.

Sultan Al Jaber, Euronews
Sultan Al Jaber, Euronews

Fossil Fuel Phase-Out

Cop26 was the first conference that even mentioned the reduction of fossil fuel, calling for a “phase-down” in its closing speech. Cop28 took a big leap on this claim as the pressure around the topic grew. The draft of the agreement put forth the possibility of a full-on fossil fuel “phase-out.”

The proposal was met with heavy backlash from fossil fuel lobbyists. At least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists had registered and were granted access to this year’s summit, data from Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) show. This number is almost four times that of the previous summit, which was a record in and of itself, and it outnumbered every other delegation except UAE and Brazil.

“No Science” behind Phase-Out

Furthermore, the president of Cop28, Sultan Al Jaber, went a step further. In a whiplash response to the UN’s former climate envoy, Mary Robinson, he claimed there is “no scientific evidence” indicating that a phase-out is necessary to reach the UN’s goal to restrict temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius above preindustrial levels–around 100 countries had already signed on for the phase-out. Al Jaber also exclaimed that a fossil fuel phase-out would not allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves.” – words that re-spark the argument that his ownership of Adnoc clashes with his position as the president of Cop28.

Sultan Al Jaber’s position on the matter also starkly contradicted that of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, who said, “The science is clear: 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.”

Caricature of COP28 by Martin Rowson, The Guardian

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore slammed the controversial claims, accusing Al Jaber of “abusing the public’s trust.” “He should not be taken seriously. He's protecting his profits and placing them in a higher priority than the survival of the human civilization,” Gore said.

The chief executive of Climate Analytics, Bill Hare, called Al Jaber’s shocking claims “an extraordinary, revealing, worrying and belligerent exchange.” He went on, “Sending us back to caves’ is the oldest of fossil fuel industry tropes: it’s verging on climate denial.”

Al Jaber hastily responded to the public backlash in a press conference during the summit: “I respect the science in everything I do. […] We have always built everything, every step of the way, on the science, on the facts.” He reaffirmed his great respect for Mary Robinson and pleaded that his words had been “misinterpreted.”

Trust in COP

There is no doubt that Sultan Al Jaber’s actions re-evoked the concerns regarding the summit’s trustworthiness. Data from The Net Zero Tracker, an independent data consortium including Oxford University, shared recently with Reuters revealed that 69 of the world’s oil producers have previously signed a pledge to reach net zero emissions, including the host, UAE. Out of the 69, only three minor producers have taken the initiative to gradually eliminate their oil industry. Neither UAE, nor China, the US, or Russia are one of them.

With the dismal statistics, the lack of follow-ups, and Sultan Al Jaber’s recent claims all cumulated, should industry barons really have a say in stopping the environmental crisis looming over our future?

In the words of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore: "When you have a petrostate in charge of the process, then we have this ridiculous situation where the main polluters have to give their permission for the world to make common sense decisions to save the future of humanity,”

Works Cited

Images: “COP28 Başkanı El Cabir: İklim Bilimine Saygı Duymadığım Doğru Değil.” Euronews,, 4 Dec. 2023, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

Rowson, Martin. “Martin Rowson on the Cop28 Summit – Cartoon.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 4 Dec. 2023, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

Abnett, Kate. “World’s Major Oil Producers Spurn Fossil Fuel Phase-out in Net Zero Push - Research.” Reuters, 5 Dec. 2023, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

Carrington, Damian. “Cop28 President Forced into Defence of Fossil Fuel Phase-out Claims.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 4 Dec. 2023, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

‌Carrington, Damian, and Ben Stockton. “Cop28 President Says There Is ‘No Science’ behind Demands for Phase-out of Fossil Fuels.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 3 Dec. 2023, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

‌Meredith, Sam. “COP28 President Sparks Outcry after He Claims There’s ‘No Science’ behind Fossil Fuel Phase Out.” CNBC, CNBC, 4 Dec. 2023, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

‌Volcovici, Valerie. “Al Gore Slams COP28 Climate Summit Host UAE, Says Its Emissions Soared.” Reuters, 4 Dec. 2023, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

‌Volcovici, Valerie. “Al Gore Slams COP28 Climate Summit Host UAE, Says Its Emissions Soared.” Reuters, 4 Dec. 2023, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

‌“Financial Times.” @FinancialTimes, 2015, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

‌Carrington, Damian. “‘Absolute Scandal’: UAE State Oil Firm Able to Read Cop28 Climate Summit Emails.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 7 June 2023, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

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