UN Chief Says Oil Companies “Have Humanity by The Throat”

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Secretary-General António Guterres (left) virtually addressing the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate

Secretary-General António Guterres (left) virtually addressing the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate
Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP (Getty Images)

The White House hosted this year’s Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate yesterday. The highlight of the forum was the address of António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to the leaders of the world’s major economies. Secretary-General Guterres didn’t restrain himself in his critical comments toward President Biden on his administration’s response to the actions of fossil fuel companies recently.

In response to the White House’s plans to negotiate with oil companies about increasing production, Secretary-General Guterres said:

“Yet we seem trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat. For decades, many in the fossil fuel industry has invested heavily in pseudo-science and public relations – with a false narrative to minimize their responsibility for climate change and undermine ambitious climate policies.

They exploited precisely the same scandalous tactics as Big Tobacco decades before. Like tobacco interests, fossil fuel interests and their financial accomplices must not escape responsibility. The argument of putting climate action aside to deal with domestic problems also rings hollow.

Had we invested earlier and massively in renewable energy, we would not find ourselves once again at the mercy of unstable fossil fuel markets. So let’s make sure the war in Ukraine is not used to increase that dependency.

Guterres strongly feels that the world’s dependency on fossil fuels created an unstable system. This unstable system encourages more dependence on fossil fuels and the companies that produce them. The Secretary-General advised that the only way to stabilize gas prices and ensure sustainable economic growth permanently is to follow a five-point plan that he put forward to the international community:

  • Treat renewable technologies as a freely available global public good.
  • Expand and diversify renewable energy supply chains.
  • Shift fossil fuel subsidies to vulnerable people that want to engage in the green economy.
  • Reform bureaucracies to fast-track approval processes.
  • Triple public and private investments in renewables to at least $4 trillion a year.

The Secretary-General’s proposal to heavily focus on transiting to renewable energy does intuitively make sense. Reducing the demand for oil would increase the available supply and reduce the price of oil. His third point is highly relevant in light of rising prices. Oil companies shouldn’t be receiving government subsidies to increase production when the average person bears the burden at the pump while producers profit.

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