The president of the UN’s COP28 climate conference has said that he sees a future for fossil fuels – even as scientists say the world must rapidly transition to clean energy – in remarks that have raised concerns about a backsliding on climate commitments.
Sultan Al Jaber, who will oversee the UN’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai in November, called for a focus on technologies to capture the planet-heating pollution produced by coal, oil and gas.
“We know that fossil fuels will continue to play a role in the foreseeable future in helping meet global energy requirements,” said Al Jaber, speaking on Wednesday at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, a conference attended by representatives from around 40 countries to help set the agenda for COP28.
He said that the world needed “to come to terms with some realities” and embrace an energy transition that includes “all sources of energy.”
“Our aim should be focused on ensuring that we phase out emissions from all sectors,” added Al Jaber.
It’s a departure from what other countries have called for. In March, European countries agreed to promote a global phase-out of fossil fuels in a text setting out their priorities for COP28.
“The shift towards a climate neutral economy will require the global phase-out of unabated fossil fuels,” the text said.
More than 80 countries supported a commitment to phase out oil, coal and gas at COP27 in Egypt last year, but Saudi Arabia and other oil and gas producing nations opposed it.
Tasneem Essop, the executive director of Climate Action Network, an alliance of environmental groups, told CNN that it was “concerning” that Al Jaber was speaking about a “‘foreseeable future for fossil fuels’ and a ‘phase out of emissions.’”
“A plan to end the era of fossil fuels should be central to the discussions and outcomes from COP28,” she said.
Nils Bartsch, head of oil and gas research at the German non-profit Urgewald, told CNN the world faces “an absolute carbon budget for 1.5 degrees Celsius. Reducing emissions intensity of oil and gas production does not change that – it just helps to exhaust our budget a little slower.”
Scientists have said that the world should make every effort to stay under 1.5 degrees of global warming above pre-industrial levels, and nations have been working to keep that goal within reach at the annual climate summits.
Al Jaber emphasized the role of technologies like carbon capture in reducing planet-heating pollution. However, some experts are concerned that these technologies remain prohibitively expensive, are unproven at scale and would take too long to implement, given the urgency of the climate crisis.
“We cannot pretend the solutions to the climate crisis lie with unreliable, untested techno fixes that will bring new risks and threats,” Essop told CNN.
Al Jaber was a controversial pick to oversee COP28. He is also CEO of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers.
Some, however, welcomed Al Jaber’s appointment. US climate envoy John Kerry told Associated Press that he was “a terrific choice,” citing his commitment to expanding renewable energy.
Al Jaber used the Berlin conference to set out priorities, including tripling renewable energy by 2030, doubling hydrogen production, expanding nuclear power and improving battery storage.
He also called on rich countries to deliver on their funding promises to climate-vulnerable countries. In 2009, wealthy nations pledged to mobilize $100 billion in annual climate funding, but they have consistently fallen far short of that target.
Al Jaber said this failure to deliver is hindering progress and undermining trust. He asked countries to “supercharge” climate finance.
“What I hear time and again is that climate finance is simply not available, not accessible, and not affordable,” Al Jaber said in Berlin on Tuesday. “If the world doesn’t come up with effective mechanisms to deliver climate finance to developing and emerging economies, they will have no choice but to choose a carbon-intensive development path.”
This year’s COP28 is considered particularly significant because it will include the first “global stocktake,” which will evaluate countries’ progress towards climate targets.
“All indicators… are telling us that we are way off track,” said Al Jaber.
Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, also speaking at the Berlin conference on Wednesday, said it will be important that “we actually take stock of what we have achieved and the targets we set ourselves. We have to get out of fossil fuels, we have to dramatically reduce emissions.”
“it is no longer about visions. It is finally about delivering on the pledges we made,” she said.
CNN’s Chris Stern and Elizabeth Wells contributed reporting