Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

Sultan Al Jaber at the Service of the Climate Movement

Matan Rudis
4 min readDec 5, 2023

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On Sunday (12/05/2023), this was the headline on The Guardian:

Cop28 president says there is ‘no science’ behind demands for phase-out of fossil fuels

As expected from such sharp headlines, what most people took from it, and then shared with extreme, out-of-context comments, is that Sultan Al Jaber is a climate denier and oilster (a term I just made up from “oil” + “gang/monster”), whose sole interest is to keep up his profits from fossil fuels.

I’m not so naive to believe that Al Jaber would join Greta and Greenpeace tomorrow or anytime in the future, but I wanted to offer a different interpertation to what he said, even if in the short term that means he’s extending his profits from oil & gas.

During the “exchange” with UN envoy and former Irish president Mary Robinson, Al Sultan refused to commit that he will phase out fossil fuels immediately. This is only expected from the president of ADNOC — one of the largest energy companies in the world, employing 50,000 people and making billions of $ every quarter in net revenues. However, there’s a nuance: Al Jaber did say that “phasing out fossil fuels is inevitable”, the questions are whether that will solve climate crisis entirely, when and how gradually this phasing out should be.

Listening to the interview for the second time and trying to override the Sultan’s upset tone, I realized that I can agree with some of what he said, and not only that — I think he’s doing an excellent service to the climate movement.

Al Jaber is basically, simplistically right. There’s not a single action, not even phasing out fossil fuels, that would stop us from falling off the climate cliff. We need a robust combination of actions. The truth must be said though, that fossil fuels are the main contributors of GHG emissions, but they don’t just burn — they burn to keep our economy running, to deliver energy to places that need it (some need more and get less, some have more than they really need, but that’s another story). So if we take the statement “phase out fossil fuels”, we should have a serious idea on the alternatives too, unless we’re willing to pay in our economies, standard of living and health. I understand that Al Jaber acknowledges that fossil fuels must be cut off, but he wants to see other countries equally willing to live with the consequences.

This statement wasn’t made in the void, but in COP28, where climate strategies are being negotiated. This year’s summit features serious transition issues in its finance and energy negotiations. I wrote about it last week. Al Jaber’s comments add an important aspect to those discussions: are we willing to pay what it takes to phase out fossil fuels? Are we going to support this decision economically? Otherwise — it’s just a waste of time and carbon dioxide.

Beyond COP28, I think Al Jaber did another important service to the climate movement. This is, of course, only my opinion, but I’m sure many others feel the same. The climate movement achieved awareness, it brought science to the front stage, we can even claim it generated a new stream in politics and economics. Now we’re getting to the point where climate is so crucial, that it can’t exist anymore as a socio-political side-lane. It has to merge with, and become embedded in, politics and economy. We want a world with less or no fossil fuels? Fair enough. The fossil fuels won’t just stop no matter how hard we yell, how much we strike or how loud we call their executives “devils”. Fossil fuels will be phased out and replaced responsibly if and when governments will have a clear path for it, that includes not only the decrease in GHG emissions, but also the improvement in the quality of life for those living on the planet. I’m not saying it’s an easy task, but if we choose to keep our economies on a growth vector, this is the way to get there.

And here comes the stoic “if”. If we choose to keep worshiping economic growth. Al Jaber’s words are valuable also for post-growth thinkers: if phasing out fossil fuels is so difficult, and as he said — unjust and illusive — perhaps the solution to decarbonize our economy should include downsizing it, or at least decoupling our prosperity and dignity as humans from the annual growth in GDP? I’m quite sure Al Jaber isn’t an eco-Marxist or a degrowth dude, but you’d surely agree that this could be a cool twist in the plot…

What’s your opinion? Curious to read your comments and feedback. I’m wirting about climate on a regular basis, so if you find this kind of content interesting, I’ll be happy if you follow me on Medium.

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Matan Rudis

Climate action, minus the hot air. Climate strategy & more at rudis.earth | Kayaks | Israeli in New York | Twitter: @MatanRudis