A few months ago, in a speech at a university in New Jersey (USA), António Guterres asked students to turn their backs on fossil fuel companies. “Do not work for the destroyers of the climate,” the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) told them. In November, at the inauguration of the climate summit in the Egyptian city of Sharm el Sheikh, he again singled out this sector and called on all the governments of the world to impose taxes on the extraordinary profits that these companies are making. This Wednesday, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Guterres has further hardened the discourse and has accused the fossil fuel multinationals of lying about the impact of his business on the planetary climate. “Like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held accountable,” said the head of the United Nations.
Fossil fuels that still power the world economy are primarily responsible for climate change, because when oil, gas, and coal are burned to generate energy, they emit greenhouse gases that are overheating the planet and triggering harsher and more extreme events. numerous, according to scientific consensus. But for decades some oil companies tried to hide the danger of these gases and lied about their warming potential. This is underlined by an investigation published last week in the journal Science and that puts the focus back on this great concealment, specifically on how scientists from the giant ExxonMobil accurately predicted since the 1970s the way in which the planet would warm up due to these gases, while the company publicly denied the problem .
Guterres referred to this investigation in his speech in Davos: “Some of the Big Oil [término con el que se conoce a las grandes petroleras mundiales] They sold the big lie. And, like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held accountable.” But it is not just a matter of the past. The UN Secretary General has accused fossil fuel producers and those who finance and support them of continuing to compete now to increase production, “knowing full well that their business model is inconsistent with human survival”, something that has described as “crazy” worthy of science fiction.
Guterres’s statements come within the framework of a World Economic Forum whose start has been highly marked by issues related to climate change. On the first day, Tuesday, the plans of the great powers to encourage the development of green technologies had a leading role with the intervention of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who presented the architecture of the European plan to the participants in The matter. This is a response to the plan launched last summer by the US, and which runs parallel to other initiatives carried out on a national scale by China, India or Japan. Together they are investments that exceed one trillion euros and, therefore, represent a strong boost on the path towards green technologies.
Although the magnitude of the green investment announcements is impressive, there is also a broad consensus that they are still insufficient for the urgent transition that the objective of disengaging from fossil fuels requires. John Kerry, representative of the Biden Administration on climate change, has warned in Davos that time is running out and has made it clear what is needed: “Money, money, money.”
The report on global risks published by the World Economic Forum on the eve of the meeting points to a main one: the failure to undertake an adequate fight against climate change. “We are flirting with the climate disaster,” Guterres stressed on Wednesday. The UN Secretary General has also pointed out the solution: “Phase out coal and boost the renewable revolution”, and “end the addiction to fossil fuels”.
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Many of the heads of the main companies and investment funds on the planet participate in the Davos forum. Also from fossil fuel companies, who no longer dare to publicly deny the climate crisis but employ other tactics of Whitening green image or greenwashing. “More and more companies [de este y otros sectores] they are assuming net zero emission commitments”, recalled Guterres. “But benchmarks and criteria are often dubious or murky,” he added. “This misleads consumers, investors and regulators with false narratives. It feeds a culture of misinformation and climate confusion and leaves the door wide open to greenwashing”.
The head of the UN has asked the heads of multinationals to present “credible and transparent” transition plans and that they are based on “real emission cuts” and not on offsets. Just over a year ago, Guterres announced the creation of a working group to address the problem of greenwashing and during the last climate summit in Egypt these experts presented a document with a series of guidelines. And the main one for the climate plans of companies and other actors such as municipalities to be credible is that they cannot increase the extraction of oil, gas and coal. “There is no room for new investments in the supply of fossil fuels and it is necessary to dismantle and write off existing assets,” the experts’ document states.
One of the most widely used tactics is to set “net zero emissions” targets, that is, offsetting the gases that are expelled with apparent natural sinks for carbon dioxide (for example, forests). But UN experts make it clear that such offsets have to be the last of the solutions and only apply for emissions that are virtually impossible to eliminate, not as the main measure of a company’s climate plan. In addition, they recall that there must be a change in the remuneration policy of fossil fuel companies, which continue to link part of the incentives to increased production.
Controversial climate summit of 2023
Guterres’s words also come when the controversy over the appointment of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber as future president of the climate summit that will be held from November 30 of this year in Dubai, COP28, is still hot. In addition to being the Minister of Industry of the United Arab Emirates, Al Jaber is the head of the public oil company ADNOC. His appointment has provoked criticism from many environmental groups, which warn of the pressures of the lobby of fossil fuels to prevent faster progress in the fight against climate change.
“The nomination of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is a clear example of the fox watching the chicken coop,” summed up Tzeporah Berman, activist and president of the initiative to approve an international treaty for the non-proliferation of fossil fuels. “Oil and gas companies are not going to engineer their own demise,” she added. For its part, CAN Europe —an association that brings together hundreds of environmental NGOs— has asked that Al Jaber, who is also his country’s special envoy for climate change and has been participating in the COP for years, resign from his position in the national oil company
Asked about this controversy, the communication office of António Guterres has not wanted to make statements to EL PAÍS and has referred to the words spoken by Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretariat, when last week he was questioned about this matter in a Press conference. Dujarric recalled that the proposal to chair the summit corresponds to the host country, and that the UN in general and the climate change department in particular “have absolutely no participation” in that process. This spokesperson then recalled that Guterres’s position is clear: “There is no way to avoid such a climate catastrophe without ending our addiction to fossil fuels.”
But in recent days, voices of support for Al Jaber have also emerged, such as that of John Kerry, who has publicly congratulated him on Twitter and recalled that he is “an experienced diplomat and businessman.” The American has also stressed that, in addition to being the head of the Emirates public oil company, he is also the president of Masdar, an equally state-owned company dedicated only to renewable energy.
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