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UN chief urges credible net-zero pledges; slams ‘Big Oil’ firms

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Guterres compared fossil fuel sector to the cigarette industry in the 1970s, where businesses were aware of the harmful health impact

The global transition to green energy is one of the main topics of discussion at the ongoing World Economic Forum meeting. Photo: UN News.
The global transition to green energy is one of the main topics of discussion at the ongoing World Economic Forum meeting. Photo: UN News.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged world leaders gathered at the ongoing World Economic Forum meeting in Davos to propose credible and transparent transition plans to achieve net-zero emissions. Guterres compared fossil fuel sector to the cigarette industry in the 1970s, where businesses were aware of the harmful health impact.

“Big Oil” needed to be held responsible for the environmental harm caused by fossil fuels. Some major oil firms “peddled the big lie” about the safety of burning fossil fuels for decades, ignoring their own data on the risks of climate change, he said.

Guterres cited a recent research that revealed Exxon Mobil scientists had predicted the implications of climate change as early as the 1970s, despite the company’s official denial of global warming.


Also read: Exxon knew: Big Oil’s scientists documented accurate climate predictions since 1970s, 1980s


“The transition to net-zero must be grounded in real emissions cuts — and not rely essentially on carbon credits and shadow markets,” Guterres said.

The International Organization for Standardization, a standard-setter and the United Nations released some recommendations in November to assist organisations in developing sound net-zero strategies. The guidelines serve as a reference text and advocate avoiding greenwashing.

Guterres urged businesses to follow the group’s guidelines for “credible, accountable net-zero pledges.”

He called climate change an “existential challenge” and stated that efforts to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius were “nearly going up in smoke.” While many businesses are promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to as near to zero as feasible, the standards and criteria they employ “are often disputed or murky.”

It “leaves the door wide open for greenwashing,” he added, referring to declarations made by certain businesses that their goods are environmentally safe sans supporting evidence.


Also read: Irony just died: Coca-Cola, among biggest global polluters, to sponsor CoP27


“The consequences, as we all know, would be devastating. Several parts of our planet would be uninhabitable. And for many, it would mean a death sentence,” Guterres said.

The global transition to green energy is one of the main topics of discussion at Davos. As part of its Green Deal industrial strategy, the European Union said it would mobilise public subsidies to prevent businesses from moving to the United States.

The United States and China, who are at odds on issues ranging from trade to human rights, need to cooperate meaningfully on climate, trade, and technology, Guterres added.

“We risk what I have called a Great Fracture — the decoupling of the world’s two largest economies,” he said.

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