UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres compared the oil and gas business to Big Tobacco, saying that “fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat.” President Joe Biden, on the other hand, was not in the mood for a brawl.
At the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, with both increasing energy prices and a warming globe weighing on the world, Biden spoke about easing the pain of high gas prices while pressing for greater long-term green policies.
At a virtual session that included oil-rich Saudi Arabia, China, Europe, and Egypt, which is hosting the next United Nations summit on climate change, the UN’s top diplomat threw out traditional diplomatic niceties and bluntly vilified the fossil fuel industry, dismissing the idea of increasing gasoline production.
It was the first time Guterres compared the energy business to cigarette companies, saying both use “scandalous techniques” to delay action that is good for people and the environment.
Biden reaffirmed his objective of lowering gasoline prices, which have reached a new high of $5 per gallon in the United States but simultaneously moving away from fossil fuels to minimise climate change and the threats it poses.
“Every lever at my disposal is being used to drive down prices for the American people,” Biden added. “However, the most important point is that these efforts are part of our long-term transition to a clean, safe, and reliable energy future.”
Next month, Biden is set to travel to Saudi Arabia. After OPEC+ stated that it would pump additional oil to bolster global supplies, the White House recently hailed the country.
“Nothing could be more evident or present than the threat of fossil fuel expansion,” Guterres said, dismissing new drilling.
“Fossil fuels don’t make political or economic sense, even in the short term,” Guterres added.
“We would not be at the mercy of uncertain fossil fuel markets if we had invested early and aggressively in renewable energy,” Guterres added. “Let’s make sure the Ukraine conflict isn’t used to strengthen that reliance.”
According to a senior U.N. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to a lack of authority to speak for the agency, the secretary-general decided to ratchet up the rhetoric as a result of the industry’s success in using the war in Ukraine as an excuse to start drilling projects.
“It’s fascinating to observe the secretary-shift general’s tone. Niklas Hohne of the New Climate Institute in Germany commented, “His language is blunter than any secretary-general before him.”
“This comes at a time when new fossil fuel infrastructure is experiencing a gold rush… Such growth is incompatible with climate policy since it would lock the world into a high-GHG future.”
“Rising energy costs worldwide and present geopolitical concerns suggest it is more critical than ever to secure sustained access to affordable, reliable energy while lowering emissions,” according to the American Petroleum Institute in a statement. The globe will want more energy, not less, as populations and economies increase.”
Cutting methane leaks and increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles on the road are two of Biden’s top concerns.
Officials from the Biden administration, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the event, said they expect some countries to declare more ambitious climate targets as part of the landmark Paris deal achieved in 2015.
In an interview with The Associated Press in the Oval Office on Thursday, Biden raised the alarm about extreme weather events.
He stated, “We have more hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding.” “People saw what — I took my kids to Yellowstone Park years ago.” ‘Daddy, did you see what happened at Yellowstone, right?’ they ask. It’s unfathomable, to be sure. These are events that happen once in a thousand years.”
However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has thrown Biden’s climate ambitions into disarray by rising gas prices. Faced with political pressure to bring prices under control amid a midterm election year, President Barack Obama has urged U.S. oil refiners to produce more fuel, even though companies say they lack the long-term incentives to do so because the administration is speeding up the transition to clean energy.
“Well, in the short term,” Biden remarked on Thursday, emphasising his belief that energy corporations should expand production rather than aim to maximise profits.
Biden arrives at the meeting with foreign leaders who lack the climate ambition and optimism he announced at the start of his presidency when he pledged to re-establish the United States as a leader in cutting fossil fuel emissions to avoid the worst-case scenarios of global warming.
Since then, Republicans and some Democrats have stymied and effectively destroyed Biden’s most ambitious climate legislation.
While Biden has been successful in winning funds for electric vehicles and other climate-related programmes, setbacks have forced him to rely on voluntary pledges and initiatives like those announced on Friday, which may be easily abandoned or reversed by future administrations.
That leaves Guterres, who lacks Biden’s political clout and power, to take aim at the fossil fuel industry, claiming that it has “invested heavily in pseudo-science and public relations – with a false narrative to minimise their responsibility for climate change and undermine ambitious climate policies.”
Guterres’ comparison of the fossil fuel and tobacco industries, according to Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria and a former Canadian lawmaker, “is a straight out analogy… “People haven’t been held accountable for what I consider to be severe crimes against society.”
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Chris Field, a Stanford University climate scientist and director of the university’s environment programme said Guterres’ call to action is “absolutely right,” but that “we need to make sure that the focus on fossil fuel companies as bad guys doesn’t hinder progress on solutions.”