VIDEO: Paul Polman calls out fossil fuel greenwashing at COP28

EXCLUSIVE: Former Unilever chief Paul Polman told edie on the sidelines of COP28 that he finds the Presidency’s push to scale up fossil fuels in tandem with renewables “bizarre” and “a delay tactic”.

Polman is a business leader, campaigner and co-author of “Net Positive”. He spoke with edie’s publisher Luke Nicholls in the Green Zone on the first Sunday of COP28 (3 December).

The pair were in discussion shortly after it was revealed that the summit’s President, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, had claimed that there is “no science” concluding that a total fossil fuel phase-out is needed to keep 1.5C alive. This claim was swiftly rubbished on social media, as well as by a new report out today from climate scientists, detailing 10 key policy levers for climate action, of which a “rapid and managed” fossil fuel phase-out is one.

Polman himself called the COP28 Presidency’s plan to treble renewables while also expanding fossil fuels “bizarre”.

He told edie: “You cannot solve the climate crisis if you do not solve the real issue that is causing [it], which is CO2 emissions in the atmosphere coming from fossil fuels.

“We are not looking for a phase down. The whole reason we started the COP process was to do a phase out. And what you see here is representative of the oil and gas industries are obviously moving into stories of carbon capture and storage. I’ve made it very clear in things I write that delay – and this is a delay tactic – is the new denial.

“It’s an easy story, it captures the public and it gives [the industry] a few more years to get away with extracting rent from an industry that, frankly, we now have many more alternatives for. That is what we should focus on.”

The UAE, at COP27 last year, was one of several petrostates pushing for a final agreement on a ‘phase down of fossil fuel emissions’ rather than a ‘phase out’ of these fuels themselves.

This narrative, which would leave a loophole for nations to invest in man-made carbon capture rather than transitioning their energy generation mix, was swiftly criticised by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Guterres had re-stated that position in Dubai this week, in a message that the COP28 Presidency re-shared on X (formerly Twitter).

Polman said those advocating for a fossil fuel phase-out this COP “still have their work cut out for them”.

He elaborated: “I think we are all coming to the realisation that there are some people that are trying to work very hard to save humanity, and others very hard to enrich the short-term shareholder. That conflict is coming out in the open a little bit more and, for that reason, I think this will be a COP of realisation.”

edie at COP28

Want more exclusive content from the grounds of COP28? edie is running a daily podcast show live from the ground in Dubai, featuring exclusive interviews with some of sustainability’s sharpest minds. Check out the COP28 Covered podcast here.

We’re also running a live blog during COP28. From a rousing speech from King Charles to new international declarations on health and agriculture, the COP28 Live Blog gives you everything you need to know about each day at the Summit.

View all of edie’s COP28 content here. 

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