1 of 4 | U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres referenced a climate report which showed the fuel industry was aware of severe planetary consequences from oil, coal and gas use, but kept the findings under wraps for decades while lobbying against environmental protections in Washington. File photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 18 (UPI) -- United Nations Secretary General António Guterres scolded the oil and gas industry Wednesday for continuing to fuel the world's climate crisis in light of a scientific study that showed ExxonMobil knew about the devastating effects of global warming more than five decades ago.
"We learned last week that certain fossil fuel producers were fully aware in the 1970s that their core product was baking our planet," Guterres said Wednesday during the scathing speech before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The pointed remarks echoed previous speeches in which Guterres warned about the escalating impact of fossil fuels, and were delivered to thousands of lawmakers, billionaire executives, tech industry leaders, and highly touted academicians who were at the conference to address multiple geopolitical crises, including climate change, inflation, the war in Ukraine, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His comments came days after a climate report in the journal Science revealed the fuel industry was aware of severe planetary consequences from oil, coal and gas use, but company executives kept a tight lid on the findings for half a century while steering negative public opinion on climate change and lobbying against environmental protections in Washington.
In his speech on the second day of the conference, Guterres accused the fossil fuel industry of "racing to expand production, knowing full well that their business model is inconsistent with human survival."
"Just like the tobacco industry, they rode rough-shod over their own science," he said. "Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie. And like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held to account."
Guterres also told the summit that current efforts to mitigate the climate crisis were "going up in smoke."
The list of summit attendees did not include any representatives from ExxonMobil.
In a statement last week, the company attempted to discredit the scientific analysis which was culled from internal company memos that showed the industry, at least since the 1950s, was aware that fossil fuel usage would result in "dramatic environmental effects before the year 2050."
"ExxonMobil is committed to being part of the solution to climate change and the risks it poses," Todd Spitler, a company spokesperson told CNN, adding "those who talk about how 'Exxon knew' are wrong."
Discussions at the summit have so far been dominated by environmental concerns, but delegates are also seeking solutions on inflation, food and energy costs, and debt across the global economy. In response to the ongoing crisis, WEF is seeking to scale up renewable energy, eliminate carbon emissions, reform world oil markets, transition to clean power generation, and improve energy efficiency around the globe.
"Our world is plagued by a perfect storm on a number of fronts. Start with the short-term, a global economic crisis," Guterres said at the outset of his speech. "The outlook, as we all know, is bleak. Many parts of the world face recession and the entire world faces a slowdown. We see deepening inequalities and a rapidly unfolding cost-of-living crisis -- affecting women and girls the most. Supply chain disruptions and an energy crunch. Soaring prices. Rising interest rates along with inflation. And debt levels pounding vulnerable countries. Add to all of that the lingering effects of the pandemic."
Guterres also blamed Russia's war in Ukraine for creating "profound global implications," including high utility prices, global supply chain issues, and the emerging uncertainty around nuclear safety.
"We are facing the gravest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust in generations," Guterres later posted on Twitter. "At Davos, I urged leaders to bridge divides and restore cooperation to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights."
Talks at the World Economic Forum come amid a flurry of recent activity meant to call more attention to climate concerns and increase mitigation efforts around the world. However, Guterres noted that many businesses and governments were putting together climate strategies based on "dubious and murky" information.
"This can mislead consumers, investors and regulators with false narratives," Guterres warned. "And it feeds a culture of climate misinformation and confusion, and leaves the door open to greenwashing."
Another troubling report published recently alleges dozens of banks and financial companies are still investing in fossil fuels despite environmental pledges made as part of an agreement known as the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero.
The plan, which arose out of the 2021 COP26 summit, includes a climate strategy based on a widely-held theory that 30% conservation would correspond to a 1.5-degree reduction in global warming, although some scientists have disputed this claim.
Guterres called on corporate leaders to enforce climate guidelines and ensure "credible, accountable net-zero pledges" on curbing emissions, and urged the delegation to devise "credible and transparent transition plans on how to achieve net zero -- and to submit those plans before the end of this year."
"Now, the transition to net zero must be grounded in real emissions cuts -- and not relying essentially on carbon credits or shadow markets," he said.
Meanwhile, another highly anticipated climate summit, the COP28, is planned for late November, and is set to deliver a progress report on the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement -- an international accord that set tangible goals for all nations to cut emissions and lower global warming levels.
Last month, nearly 200 countries reached a landmark agreement at the COP15 biodiversity summit in a unified effort to protect nature, endangered species and other critical resources for the next decade. The newly approved Global Biodiversity Framework sets a path for each country to designate 30% of land that would remain undeveloped in an effort to support nature and the environment over the next decade.
New research published earlier this month also predicts greater fallout from global warming, with nearly 50% of the Earth's natural ice expected to melt and disappear by the year 2100.
Under this scenario, average sea levels would rise by more than 3 inches over the next 75 years if warming levels are maintained at 1.5C; but could potentially reach almost 5 inches if warming continues at the current rate of 2.7C.
"And the biggest emitters -- namely the G20 countries -- must unite around a Climate Solidarity Pact in which they make extra efforts in the 2020s to keep the 1.5-degree limit alive," Guterres declared.