COP28 president and CEO of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) oil giant Adnoc has conceded that the fossil fuel phasedown is inevitable, despite previous insistence on the reduction of fossil fuel emissions rather than the fuels themselves. 

Speaking on Thursday as part of this week’s UN climate talks in Bonn, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber agreed that the “phasedown of fossil fuels is inevitable”, but that “the speed at which this happens depends on how quickly we can phase up zero carbon alternatives, while ensuring energy security, accessibility and affordability,” Reuters reports

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The Bonn Climate Change Conference is an important halfway point in the preparations for COP28, which is due to take place between November and December this year. 

Environmentalists have previously expressed concern over a potential conflict of interest with the appointment of the head of oil company Adnoc as president of a climate change conference. 

US President Joe Biden and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen signed a joint letter in May expressing concern over “private sector polluters” exerting “undue influence” over the talks.  

While Al-Jaber’s comments have been applauded as an important first step, they do not offer a timeline for the upscaling of clean technologies nor mention a complete phase out of fossil fuels. 

Sultan Al-Jaber’s involvement in COP28 

On Wednesday, Majid Al Suwaidi, director-general of the COP28 climate talks for the UAE, told the Guardian that nations have not yet agreed to discuss the issue of the fossil fuel phase out. 

“Remember, there are two sides of this discussion,” he said. “There are many on one side of the discussion who would like to see the kind of language of phasing out fossil fuels, but there are others in other different circumstances in different situations, who have different views on how that language should be formulated”. 

Concern over the influence of private fossil fuel companies on the conference is growing. On 30 May, the Centre for Climate Reporting accused Al-Jaber of ‘greenwashing’ after it found that Al-Jaber’s team had been editing Wikipedia pages that highlight his role as the CEO of Adnoc.  

“Oil companies and their CEOs are taking greenwash to a whole new level – seizing control of global climate conferences, then getting their own employees to airbrush out criticism of their blatant hypocrisy on Wikipedia,” Caroline Lucas, UK Green Party MP, told reporters. 

Others have countered that the involvement of an oil CEO could be meaningful as the energy transition cannot meaningfully go ahead without the involvement of fossil fuel companies.