Fossil Fuels Are “Incompatible With Human Survival,” Says UN Secretary General

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World leaders and their representatives are preparing for COP 28, the annual climate summit that will take place in Dubai from November 20 until December 12 this year. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been monitoring those preparations over the past two weeks and is less than pleased with what he has seen so far. Here is a transcript of his remarks at a press conference at the end of those talks last week.

“Good afternoon, everybody. I met with a group of civil society climate leaders from around the world. We are months away from the SDG and Climate Ambition Summits, with COP 28 following soon after.

“I am very worried about where the world stands on climate. Countries are far off track in meeting climate promises and commitments. I see a lack of ambition, a lack of trust, a lack of support, a lack of cooperation, and an abundance of problems around clarity and credibility.

“The climate agenda is being undermined. At a time when we should be accelerating action, there is backtracking. At a time when we should be filling gaps, those gaps are growing. Meanwhile, the human rights of climate activists are being trampled. The most vulnerable are suffering the most.

“Current policies are taking the world to a 2.8 degree temperature rise by the end of the century. That spells catastrophe, yet the collective response remains pitiful. We are hurtling towards disaster, eyes wide open — with far too many willing to bet it all on wishful thinking, unproven technologies and silver bullet solutions.

“It’s time to wake up and step up. It’s time to rebuild trust based on climate justice. It’s time to accelerate the just transition to a green economy. Limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius is still possible. We must consider this as a moment of hope.

“But it will require carbon emissions to be cut by 45% by 2030. To help get us there, I have proposed a Climate Solidarity Pact in which all big emitters would make extra efforts to cut emissions and wealthier countries support emerging economies to do so. And I have put forward an Acceleration Agenda to supercharge these efforts.

“I urge governments to make it happen. By hitting fast forward on their net zero deadlines, so that developed countries commit to reaching net zero as close as possible to 2040 and emerging economies as close as possible to 2050. Developed countries must abide by their commitments on finance, adaptation, and loss and damage.

“They must also push Multilateral Development Banks to adapt their business models, skill sets, and approaches to risk in order to leverage far more private finance at reasonable cost to developing countries to allow for a massive increase in investment in renewables. That investment is the only way to achieve global energy security independent of the present unpredictable market fluctuations.

“And in every country, without exception, civil society voices must be heard. They must be at the table helping to shape policy, and on the ground helping to deliver change.

“All of this action must be global. It must be immediate. And it must start with the polluted heart of the climate crisis — the fossil fuel industry. Let’s face facts. The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It’s fossil fuels — period.

“The solution is clear. The world must phase out fossil fuels in a just and equitable way — moving to leave oil, coal and gas in the ground where they belong — and massively boosting renewable investment in a just transition. Fossil fuel industry transition plans must be transformation plans that chart a company’s move to clean energy and away from a product incompatible with human survival (emphasis added). Otherwise, they are just proposals to become more efficient planet-wreckers.

“Of course, we must recognize that transformations don’t happen overnight. Transition plans are precisely to provide a road map for a managed, orderly process that guarantees affordability, access and energy security.

“How do we get there? Our Acceleration Agenda calls on governments to:

    • Commit to no new coal.
    • Complete phasing out coal by 2030 in OECD countries and 2040 elsewhere.
    • End all international coal funding – both public and private.
    • End licensing or funding of new oil and gas.
    • Stop the expansion of existing oil and gas reserves – and support the just transition of the impacted developing countries.
    • Ensure net zero electricity generation by 2035 in developed countries and 2040 everywhere else.
    • Shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables and to a just energy transition.
    • Put a price on carbon.
    • Establish a progressive global phase out of existing oil and gas production compatible with global net zero emissions by 2050.

“But the fossil fuel industry and its enablers have a special responsibility. Last year, the oil and gas industry reaped a record $4 trillion windfall in net income. 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. The world needs the industry to apply its massive resources to drive, not obstruct, the global move from fossil fuels to renewables and reap the benefits in they themselves lead the transition. Yet right now, the industry is not even reaching the very low operational emissions reductions targets it has set for itself. Many are running late and most rely on dubious offsets.

“I call on all fossil fuel companies to present credible, comprehensive, and detailed new transition plans  fully in line with all the recommendations of my high level Expert Group on net zero pledges. These plans must cover all activities up and down the value chain. That must include reducing emissions from production, processing, transmission, refining, distribution and use. And they must establish clear, near term targets that chart the business’ transition to clean energy.

“Fossil fuel companies must also cease and desist influence peddling and legal threats designed to knee cap progress. I am thinking particularly of recent attempts to subvert net zero alliances by invoking antitrust legislation. Governments are pivotal in setting the record straight. They must help by providing clear reassurance: Collective climate action does not violate anti-trust. It upholds the public trust.

“At the same time, financial institutions must encourage this transformation of the fossil fuel industry. I urge all financial institutions to present public, credible, and detailed plans to transition their funding from fossil fuels to clean energy.

“Again, we know that this transition will not occur overnight. These plans should contain clear targets for 2025 and 2030. They should include an explicit strategy to progressively strip out fossil fuel assets from their portfolios to ensure they become credibly net-zero aligned. They must show how capital expenditure, research and development, and investments are aligned with net-zero targets. And they must disclose all lobbying and policy engagement activities.

“Financial institutions everywhere must end lending, underwriting, and investments in coal anywhere — including new coal infrastructure, power plants, and mines. And they must commit to end financing and investment [in] exploration for new oil and gas fields, and expansion of oil and gas reserves — investing instead in the just transition in the developing world.

“To those finance institutions already shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, I have a special message of hope and encouragement: Do not relent in the face of attacks on progress. You are doing the right thing. Keep going.

“As my discussion with civil society leaders today made clear, there is simply too much at stake for us to be silent. There is too much at risk for us to sit on the sidelines. Now must be the time for ambition and action.

“I look forward to welcoming first movers and doers at my Climate Ambition Summit in September. The world is watching — and the planet can’t wait.”

An End To Fossil Fuels?

fossil fuels

Well, those are strong words. Will they have any effect? Will the 23 Republican attorneys general who are threatening antitrust action against insurance companies who take climate risks into account when setting premiums suddenly say, “Oh, we are such silly gooses. We must stop pursuing such idiotic nonsense immediately?” Will the bankers who lend so much money to fossil fuel companies suddenly forswear all such investments? Will the rabid attack dogs in the Texas legislature who are trying to slow down the renewable energy revolution suddenly see the error of their ways?

Not a chance. COP 28 itself will be headed by the oil minister for the United Arab Emirates. While he takes great umbrage at any suggestion he is not fully committed to reducing global emissions, at the same time he is plotting to expand oil operations. Could there be a clearer example of how the established order is giving a giant F U to the world at large when it comes to taking action to reduce the use of fossil fuels?

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The forces being marshaled against doing anything of substance to address the global overheating crisis are getting stronger. Dictators and fascist politicians everywhere are closing ranks to protect their clients — the fossil fuel companies. Paid persuaders are dragging every red herring they can think of — abortion, homosexuality, how electric cars are making parking garages collapse, and critical race theory — to slow down the assault on fossil fuels.

Burning stuff is a right guaranteed in the Constitution, or the Bible, or the writings of Ayn Rand. The chances are, no one who should will pay the slightest attention to the imprecations of  Antonio Guterres, and the world will continue careening toward a self-induced climate disaster. Then people will say, “Why were we not warned?”

But of course the record will show we were warned, over and over and over again. We just chose not to listen for economic, or theological, or cultural reasons. If we are relying on people coming to their senses about fossil fuels and why the Earth is overheating, we are in desperate trouble indeed.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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