The president of COP28 has said comments he made claiming there was “no science” behind cutting fossil fuels were misrepresented.
The head of the climate change summit in Dubai sparked fury among climate leaders after saying there was no science to suggest phasing out fossil fuels will limit global warming to 1.5C.
Addressing the controversy over the remarks, Sultan al Jaber stressed that the phasing out of fossil fuels was essential.
“Everything this presidency has been working on, continues to work on, is focused on and centred around the science,” he told a press conference.
He said his comments had been misrepresented to get maximum coverage and hit out at what he called the “constant and repeated attempts to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency”.
The controversial remarks were made during an online question and answer session last month, a video obtained by The Guardian revealed on Sunday.
He was replying to Mary Robinson, former Irish president and a former UN climate envoy, who said nations needed to commit to phasing out fossil fuel usage.
He said: “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C…
“A phase-out of fossil fuel, in my view, is inevitable, it is essential. But we need to be real, serious and pragmatic about it.”
Al Jaber added later: “Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.”
Scientists and campaign groups reacted with anger to Mr al Jaber’s remarks.
Teresa Anderson, from ActionAid International, described his comments as “completely divorced from the reality of hundreds of millions of people on the frontline of climate catastrophe.”
Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, said: “The recent comments from the COP28 president show how entrenched he is in fossil fuel fantasy and is clearly determined that this COP doesn’t do anything to harm the interests of the oil and gas industry.”
Meanwhile, Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics, told The Guardian: “This is an extraordinary, revealing, worrying and belligerent exchange. ‘Sending us back to caves’ is the oldest of fossil fuel industry tropes: it’s verging on climate denial.”
It is the latest controversy created by the COP28 president, who is also chief executive of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
Critics have questioned his suitability for the role, due to his background in the oil industry.
He has also faced allegations that the UAE wanted to use the summit to strike new oil and gas deals – claims he has denied and described as “false”.
The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to limit the world’s average surface temperature to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Global temperatures have already increased by more than 1.28C since 1880, it is estimated.
The limit is seen as crucial to stave off the more dangerous impacts of climate change – with reducing or eliminating harmful emissions widely seen as the best way of achieving the goal.