Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest in scathing attack on oil and gas industry

<span>Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

An Australian mining billionaire has used the backdrop of the Cop28 climate summit to pay for ads in more than 10 major newspapers around the world attacking the oil and gas industry and calling for fossil fuels to be phased out.

Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, who this year ranked as Australia’s second richest person, with a net worth of A$33.3bn (£17.4bn), said he had placed an ad in the Friday edition of papers including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Financial Times, Times of India and Australian Financial Review.

The ad showed an ostrich with its head in the sand. Above the bird ran the text: “Oil and gas, here is the science you’ve missed.”

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The campaign was timed to run as Forrest, who made his fortune mining iron ore but who has more recently become an aggressive renewable energy investor and advocate, called for urgent action at the climate summit in the United Arab Emirates.

Speaking on a rest day at the Dubai conference, he said Cop28 could have “enormous historic relevancy” if countries declared fossil fuels should be phased out, and not just “abated” through what he called the “old lie” of carbon sequestration, but would be a “flop” if they failed to agree on this point.

“Look, I would have thought it’s unlikely that a call to phase out fossil fuel would get a lot of airplay because the petrostate and fossil fuel sector sent thousands and thousands of lobbyists here. And that is interesting. But what is more interesting for me is that the science is now cutting through and if people are saying they don’t know it, or they ignore it, then I do think they have blood on their hands,” he told the Guardian.

“We need just a simple understanding that there’s only one question we should ask, which is: when are you going to stop burning fossil fuel? Any industrialist, any politician should receive that simple question. Not ‘what’s your net [zero] 2050 plan’ or ‘what is your going greener plan’, or any of that whitewash.”

A trained marine scientist, Forrest has this year given lectures focused on the increasing risk of “lethal humidity” – a level at which the human body struggles to cool down – and says he has lobbied the governments of big emitting countries to do something about it.

This week, his company Fortescue published an open letter to “world leaders” signed by 60 scientists saying there was “scientific consensus that rising humidity and heat pose a serious and growing threat to humanity”, particularly in the heavily populated tropics and subtropics.

The letter and ads called for support for Forrest’s “positive power plan” that involved completely phasing out fossil fuels, replacing it with renewable energy and introducing economic stimulants to encourage “green growth and transformation”.

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He said his goal in running the ads was “maintaining the momentum of truth” and “making sure that everyone understands that lethal humidity is upon us [and] it is killing people”.

“Over 3 billion people are exposed now… the time for excuses and prevarication is over. We have the solutions to phase out fossil fuel, and this is where we must go,” he said. “If you say you can’t, then maybe you’re right – you can’t. But now’s the time for you to leave the stage and bring on someone who will.”

Forrest said as the head of a company that had relied on fossil fuel energy to create wealth, he was “part of the problem”. He repeated a line he said he used during his lecture tour: “if you’re looking to put a head on a spike when lethal humidity really hits, well, start with mine. But don’t let off the other 999 who may not have acted as quickly as we have.”

“I include myself in that because I’m not pointing the finger at everyone else, I’m saying I’m part of the problem too. But at least I’m changing.”

Fortescue now describes itself as the “world’s number one integrated green technology energy and metals company” and has set a target of eliminating its emissions entirely by 2030. It has had a mixed year, having celebrated its two-decade anniversary at a lavish Pilbara party, but also losing several senior executives in quick succession.

The company, and Forrest, made a splash at Cop28 by turning up with a ship dubbed the “Green Pioneer” – a Singapore-flagged commercial vessel that has had two of its four engines converted so they can run on a mix of diesel and green ammonia, derived from green hydrogen.

It had to be powered to the UAE by conventional dirty fossil fuel, but while in the harbour it is running on hydro-treated vegetable oil. Fortescue says the ship’s first ammonia fuel transfer is expected in February.

The Australian climate change minister, Chris Bowen, toured the ship on Thursday, and the US special presidential envoy for climate, John Kerry, is scheduled to headline an onboard event “to celebrate the beginning of the era of pollution free shipping” on Friday.