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  • Writer's pictureRishav Shrestha

COP28: Head of UN Talks and the Climate Science Debate

by Rishav Shrestha

The president of the ongoing UN climate talks Sultan al-Jaber has hit back at claims that he denies a core part of climate science
Courtesy of BBC/EPA

The ongoing UN climate talks at COP28 in Dubai have taken an unexpected turn as the president of the summit, Sultan al-Jaber, found himself at the center of a debate surrounding climate science. This controversy has sparked discussions about the role of fossil fuels, global temperature targets, and the future of our planet. In this blog post, we'll delve into the details of this climate science debate and its implications for the fight against climate change.

The Controversy Unfolds at COP28

Sultan al-Jaber, a prominent figure at COP28 and the head of the United Arab Emirates' delegation, initially made headlines with his statement that there was "no science" behind the idea of ending fossil fuel use to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This statement contradicted the widely accepted scientific consensus, which suggests that phasing out fossil fuels is a crucial step in achieving this temperature goal.

However, in a subsequent clarification, Mr. Jaber emphasized his belief in and respect for climate science. He expressed his frustration with what he perceived as attempts to undermine the COP28 presidency's work, stating that science had always been central to his career.

The Role of Fossil Fuels

The heart of the debate lies in the role of fossil fuels in addressing climate change. All countries participating in the UN climate talks in 2015 agreed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This ambitious goal requires a significant reduction in fossil fuel use.

While some argue that capturing carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels can allow their continued use, others, especially those most vulnerable to climate change, advocate for a complete phase-out. This stark divide among nations reflects their differing economic interests and priorities.

The Scientific Consensus

To shed light on the scientific perspective, Professor Jim Skea, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), emphasized that Mr. Jaber was attentive to the science. He reiterated the IPCC's findings, stating that to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees with minimal overshoot, fossil fuel use must be greatly reduced, and unabated coal use must be phased out entirely by 2050. This would require a 60% reduction in oil use and a 45% reduction in gas use by the same year.

The Geopolitical Challenge

The debate over fossil fuels at COP28 is not merely a scientific one; it's a complex geopolitical challenge. Countries whose economies heavily rely on fossil fuels are hesitant to commit to a complete phase-out, as it could have significant economic repercussions. On the other hand, nations on the frontlines of climate change demand more substantial commitments to ending fossil fuel use.


The climate science debate at COP28 highlights the intricate and high-stakes negotiations taking place in Dubai. As the world grapples with the urgent need to address climate change, it is essential to consider both the scientific consensus and the geopolitical realities. The path forward will require a delicate balance between science, economics, and global cooperation.

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