U.N. leader and COP28 climate summit president clash over fossil fuels

December 1, 2023

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres clashed with Sultan Al-Jaber of the United Arab Emirates, president of the United Nations’ COP28, over the future of fossil fuels at the climate summit.

On Friday in Dubai, Guterres urged world leaders at 28th annual COP (Conference of Parties) summit to phase out fossil fuels, saying there’s no other way to “save a burning planet.” 

The U.N. leader’s statement came one day after Al-Jaber proposed embracing the continued use of fossil fuels.

On Thursday the U.N. climate body cautioned that this year’s average global temperature is already 1.4° Celsius (2.6° Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages, and 2023 is on track to be the hottest year ever.

It was at the Paris summit in 2015 (COP21) where members committed to keep the average global temperature below a 2° Celsius increase at most.

In Dubai, leaders are expected to discuss their progress, or lack thereof, in limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels, with Guterres insisting, “The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate.”

Meanwhile, a member of COP28’s main advisory board resigned Friday over documents that were leaked earlier this week revealing that the UAE planned to use the summit to strike oil deals with 15 other countries—despite the United Nations’ directive that hosts of the annual summit act without bias or self-interest.

Hilda Heine, former President of the low-lying and thus climate vulnerable Marshall Islands, called the leaked reports “deeply disappointing” and asserted that they “undermine the integrity of the COP presidency and the process as a whole.”

She insisted that the only way for Al-Jaber to restore trust would be to “deliver an outcome that demonstrates that you are committed to phasing out fossil fuels.”

Al-Jaber is not only this year’s COP summit president, he is chief executive of the UAE state oil company ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company). He has called allegations related to the leaked documents “false, not true, incorrect, and not accurate.

However, when first asked by reporters about the leaked documents, the UAE’s COP28 team said, “private meetings are private,” adding that its work has been focused on “meaningful climate action.”

Guterres Al-Jaber PHOTO: U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, UAE Sultan Al-Jaber

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