Article image

UN Chief: Fossil fuel industry era must end for humanity's survival

In a fiery critique of the fossil fuel industry, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, issued an unequivocal warning during a meeting with civil society groups.

He stated that fossil fuels are “incompatible with human survival,” denouncing the continued profiteering of oil and gas companies as a betrayal to future generations and a subversion of the world’s desperate efforts to mitigate the climate crisis.

“Last year, the oil and gas industry reaped a record $4 trillion windfall in net income,” said Guterres. “Yet for every dollar it spends on oil and gas drilling and exploration, only 4 cents went to clean energy and carbon capture – combined.”

Escalating frustration with the fossil fuel industry

Guterres’ denouncement symbolizes an escalating frustration against the industry’s cavalier economic success, even amidst looming warnings from scientists. These experts caution that the incessant burning of fossil fuels will disastrously catapult the world past any safe climate threshold.

Secretary-General Guterres, moreover, dismissed any notions of “greenwashing” proposed by several oil executives. This includes the current chair of the international climate talks in Dubai.

He suggested that fossil fuel companies could maintain production levels by capturing and storing planet-warming carbon emissions. Guterres said that such proposals would merely result in these companies becoming “more efficient planet-wreckers.”

Challenging the fossil fuel industry

The UN Chief boldly challenged the fossil fuel industry to present a credible plan for transitioning to clean energy, condemning their refusal to adapt as akin to “trading the future for thirty pieces of silver.”

He also presented the industry with a provocative question: why not invest their immense profits in renewable energy? Such an investment, he argued, would ensure their relevance in the world economy while facilitating the necessary transition away from fossil fuels.

The climate summit chair, Sultan al-Jaber, who also serves as the United Arab Emirates‘ Minister of Industry and Chief Executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has been at the heart of controversy recently.

Environmentalists and lawmakers have scrutinized al-Jaber for his close ties to the fossil fuel industry, and the implicit criticism of his stance by Guterres, while veiled, represents a marked departure from usual diplomatic practices.

Even though he endorsed the idea of a separation between fossil fuel interests and U.N. climate talks, Guterres noted the transformative potential inherent in unexpected quarters.

“What I learned in politics was that sometimes some of the most daring progressive reforms were done by conservatives or so-called conservatives,” he said. “And some of the most daring conservative changes were done by so-called progressives.”

Phasing out of fossil fuels is “inevitable”

Al-Jaber’s office, in response, underlined his support for ramping up renewable energy. They pointed to his recent acknowledgment that the phasedown of fossil fuels is “inevitable” and his call to the industry to increase efforts to reduce emissions.

This dialogue unfolded as negotiators from nearly 200 countries concluded two weeks of preparatory talks for COP28 in Bonn, Germany.

The U.N. climate office has announced that delegates attending the summit in Dubai will be required to declare their affiliations. This move is aimed at clamping down on the undue influence exerted by fossil fuel companies and other related entities.

Guterres further drew attention to recent attempts in some U.S. states to subvert net-zero alliances, where antitrust legislation was invoked to thwart insurance companies from imposing environmental standards on the companies they invest in.

His discourse turned into a direct call to action, urging affluent nations to commit to phasing out coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, by 2030 and encouraging other countries to follow suit by 2040.

Funding must be shifted to clean energy projects 

Guterres went a step further, advocating for a shift in government subsidies from fossil fuels to clean energy projects, terminating licensing or funding for new oil and gas ventures, and implementing a tax on carbon emissions.

The UN Chief’s remarks underscored a pressing need for international economic systems to align with climate goals, thereby fostering an environment that disincentivizes fossil fuel production and consumption.

Making a direct appeal to financial institutions, Guterres urged them to halt any financing of fossil fuel projects. For those already paving the way by defunding fossil fuels, he encouraged them not to waver under criticism or attacks.

His rallying cry echoed a staunch optimism in the face of a daunting challenge. “You are doing the right thing,” he reassured them, “Keep going.”

The UN Secretary-General’s remarks represent an unprecedented condemnation of fossil fuel companies and their role in the climate crisis. His call for a dramatic shift towards clean energy, and the concerted efforts needed to achieve it, underscore the urgency and magnitude of the challenges ahead.

Yet, his unwavering belief in the potential for change offers a glimmer of hope amidst the climate crisis. The road to sustainable energy might be rough, but the need for transition is immediate and undebatable.

More about the fossil fuel industry

The fossil fuel industry refers to the global network of companies involved in the exploration, extraction, production, and distribution of fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas. These fuels have been the primary source of energy for industrialization and economic development over the past couple of centuries.

The connection between the fossil fuel industry and climate change lies in the greenhouse gas emissions released during the combustion of fossil fuels.

When fossil fuels are burned for energy, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases, such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), are released into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat and contribute to the greenhouse effect, leading to global warming and climate change.

Here are some key points about the connection between the fossil fuel industry and climate change:

Carbon dioxide emissions

Burning fossil fuels releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. The increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been linked to rising global temperatures.

Other greenhouse gases

Fossil fuel extraction and processing can also release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane leaks can occur during drilling, transportation, and production processes. Additionally, fossil fuel combustion can produce nitrous oxide, another potent greenhouse gas.

Deforestation and land use change

The expansion of the fossil fuel industry often leads to deforestation and land use changes. Forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. When forests are cleared to make way for fossil fuel infrastructure or to extract resources like coal, the stored carbon is released, further contributing to climate change.

Feedback loops and amplification

Climate change caused by fossil fuel emissions can trigger positive feedback loops that accelerate global warming. For example, as temperatures rise, permafrost in Arctic regions can thaw, releasing large amounts of trapped methane, which in turn intensifies the greenhouse effect.

Ocean acidification

Excess CO2 from fossil fuel emissions is absorbed by the oceans, leading to ocean acidification. This process has negative impacts on marine ecosystems, including coral reefs and shellfish, with cascading effects on the entire marine food chain.

Environmental and health impacts

The extraction and processing of fossil fuels can have detrimental environmental and health consequences. For instance, oil spills and leaks can contaminate water bodies and devastate ecosystems. The extraction of coal has been linked to air pollution and respiratory problems.

Given the urgency of addressing climate change, there is a growing recognition of the need to transition away from fossil fuels towards cleaner and renewable energy sources.

This shift involves investing in renewable energy technologies, improving energy efficiency, and adopting sustainable practices to mitigate the impacts of climate change and create a more sustainable future.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day