UN chief rebukes fossil fuel industry supporters as climate records break

By Thomson Reuters Jun 5, 2024 | 9:55 AM

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Wednesday that countries must confront not just the fossil-fuel industry, but also companies that support efforts to obstruct climate action.

The U.N. chief, a longtime critic of oil and gas companies’ role in driving climate change, called the industry out for spending billions on “distorting the truth, deceiving the public, and sowing doubt” about climate change, while investing just “a measly 2.5%” of its total capital on clean energy alternatives.

He went further in a speech at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, criticizing financial institutions as well as media and public relations firms for supporting the industry’s advertisements and accepting content sponsorships.

“I call on these companies to stop acting as enablers to planetary destruction,” Guterres said in prepared remarks. “Stop taking on new fossil-fuel clients, from today, and set out plans to drop your existing ones.”

Countries should ban such advertising, he said, as many countries do for tobacco and other products that have proven harmful to human health.

The U.N. chief’s remarks on World Environment Day come as major oil and gas companies have fought back against activist shareholders urging more corporate climate action, and as some U.S. lawmakers step up their probes into whether the industry is behaving deceptively.

The U.S. oil industry has pushed back against claims it has held back climate progress, with the American Petroleum Institute calling recent probes into the sector’s actions a “political distraction”.

Guterres urged banks and investors to stop funding fossil-fuel projects, and to “present public, credible and detailed plans to transition funding from fossil fuels to clean energy with clear targets for 2025 and 2030.”

Over the next 18 months, Guterres said, countries need to focus on slashing emissions, protecting people and nature from climate extremes, boosting climate finance, and clamping down on the fossil-fuel industry.

“It is high time to put an effective price on carbon, and tax the windfall profits of fossil-fuel companies,” Guterres said, repeating a call he’s made repeatedly in line with advice from a U.N. climate advisory panel issued at the U.N. climate summit COP28 in Dubai last year.

The panel also urged an end to fossil fuel subsidies, which reached record levels last year totaling more than $7 trillion worldwide.

Instead, that money could help transition to clean energy or prepare for climate extremes, he said.

“Climate finance is not a favor. It is fundamental to a livable future for all,” he said.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Rod Nickel)