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Al Gore on Fossil Fuels at COP28: World Has ‘Run Out of Patience For These Kind of Games’

3 minute read

For months, Al Gore has vocally panned the choice to put Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned oil company, in charge of the annual United Nations climate conference known this year as COP28. The move, Gore says, represents the pinnacle of industry capture of the U.N. climate process. “It is just the most brazen conflict of interest in the history of climate negotiations,” he told me on Dec. 5.

Now, a week into the conference, Gore is no less outraged—but he thinks the appointment may have backfired on Big Oil. In short, putting Al Jaber in charge has placed not only the COP leadership but the entire process under heightened scrutiny and has drawn attention to the wider presence of the oil and gas industry at the conference (which has also been an issue at previous COPs but not to this degree). “It was an overreach by the fossil fuel industry; too clever by half,” Gore told me. “It has awakened people.”

Gore says he has had warm encounters with Al Jaber in their past meetings and that he is perfectly “pleasant” and hospitable. It’s that warmth, Gore says, that led many people to take “the path of least resistance” and work with him. “All of us as human beings are vulnerable to the classic temptation to go along to get along,” Gore says.

But the latest string of revelations has left even those inclined to get along in shock. First, the BBC reported that Al Jaber had used official meetings in his capacity as COP president to lobby for his company’s oil interests. A later story revealed audio of him arguing that “there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5°C.” And, finally, numbers released this week show a record number of delegates affiliated with the fossil fuel industry in attendance (see our data point below for more on this). The result is that many COP delegates previously reluctant to criticize Al Jaber are now deliberating behind the scenes whether publicly distancing themselves from the COP presidency will help or hurt efforts to negotiate a phaseout of fossil fuels.

In this context, Gore says that the myriad voluntary announcements and pledges made in the first few days of COP28 have also fallen flat. “This business of distracting the world's attention with a whole series of bright shiny objects,” he says. “It’s insulting to common sense.”

There’s one announcement, however, that Gore is excited about: a project known as Climate TRACE that he helped get off the ground to track emissions data and hold polluters accountable. What does it show? The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company is emitting more than it claims publicly, says Gore.

Gore is just one person, but his stature as a sort of dean of the climate space means not only that people listen to what he has to say but also that he has a pulse of the climate conversation. And his view now is that the world “has run out of patience for these kinds of games.”

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Write to Justin Worland / Dubai at justin.worland@time.com