Secretary-General António Guterres has urged the industry to present a convincing strategy for switching to clean energy
In a tirade against fossil fuel firms on Thursday, the chief of the UN charged that they were betraying future generations and sabotaging attempts to phase out a substance that was "incompatible with human survival." Secretary-General António Guterres also dismissed suggestions by some oil executives — including the man tapped to chair this year's international climate talks in Dubai — that fossil fuel firms can keep up production if they find a way to capture planet-warming carbon emissions. They would become "more effective planet-wreckers," he threatened.
It's not the first time the head of the U.N. has criticised Big Oil for its role in causing global warming, but the direct criticism reflects growing anger over the sector's recent profit boom despite scientific warnings that burning fossil fuels will push the world far beyond any safe climate threshold.
“Last year, the oil and gas industry reaped a record $4 trillion windfall in net income,” Guterres said after a meeting with civil society groups. "Yet for every dollar it spends on oil and gas drilling and exploration, only 4 cents went to clean energy and carbon capture — combined.”
“Trading the future for thirty pieces of silver is immoral,” he said.
The industry was urged by Guterres to present a convincing strategy for switching to clean energy "and away from a product incompatible with human survival."Instead, he argued, the industry could "survive the transition and remain very important and relevant actors in the global economy" by investing its enormous earnings in renewable energy. Recently, fossil fuel companies have promoted the idea that they should be permitted to continue extracting oil and gas from the ground as long as they reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the process. Experts reject this idea as being too complex and expensive to achieve the urgent greenhouse gas reductions required.
In response to recent remarks made by Sultan al-Jaber, the representative of the United Arab Emirates who will preside over the subsequent United Nations climate summit, Guterres remarked, "The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions." It's fossil fuels, plain and simple.
Al-Jaber, who is also the UAE's minister of industry and chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has come under fire from environmentalists and Western lawmakers for his close ties to the fossil fuel industry. He was chosen by the UAE to lead the COP28 talks and any criticism by the U.N. chief — albeit veiled — is highly unusual.
Asked whether there needs to be a firewall between fossil fuel interests and the U.N. climate talks, Guterres tried to strike a positive note, however.
“What I learned in politics was that sometimes some of the most daring progressive reforms were done by conservatives or so-called conservatives,” the Socialist former Prime Minister of Portugal said. “And some of the most daring conservative changes were done by so-called progressives.”
Al-Jaber's office released a statement in which it underlined that al-Jaber has supported increasing the use of renewable energy, recently referred to the phaseout of fossil fuels as "inevitable," and urged business to step up efforts to reduce emissions.Gutterres' remarks In preparation for COP28, two weeks of negotiations in Bonn, Germany, were coming to an end on Thursday. In an effort to limit undue influence by fossil fuel firms and others, the U.N. climate office revealed Thursday that it will ask delegates attending the conference in Dubai to register their membership. A flag will be displayed for participants who decline to disclose optional information about their affiliation with the government agency or organisation that nominated them.
Civil society organisations applauded the decision, which would also apply to them, but stated that attendees should also be required to reveal how their presence is paid for.Announcing that fossil fuel companies are obstructing climate change initiatives, Guterres shared their worries and demanded that they "cease and desist influence-peddling and legal threats designed to kneecap progress."
“I am thinking particularly of recent attempts to subvert net zero alliances, invoking antitrust legislation,” Guterres said, referring to efforts in some U.S. states aimed at preventing insurance companies from setting environmental standards for the companies they invest in.
The most polluting fossil fuel, coal, should be phased out by wealthier countries by the year 2030, and others should follow suit a decade later, he said. He said that governments should stop licencing or funding new oil and gas projects, move subsidies from fossil fuels to sustainable energy initiatives, and put a price on carbon emissions.In addition to urging those who were already funding fossil fuel projects to continue doing so, Guterres urged financial institutions to "not (to) relent in the face of attacks on progress. “You are doing the right thing,” he said. “Keep going.”