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Spain during a heat wave. EFE
UN chief warns: 'We are playing Russian roulette' as planet sees record-breaking temperatures
Environment

UN chief warns: 'We are playing Russian roulette' as planet sees record-breaking temperatures

In a hard-hitting speech for World Environment Day UN Secretary General António Guterres called on countries to stop funding and advertising fossil fuels

José A. González

Madrid

Tuesday, 11 June 2024, 08:32

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"Today is World Environment Day. It is also the day that the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service officially reports May 2024 as the hottest May in recorded history. This marks twelve straight months of the hottest months ever." This is how António Guterres, the United Nations' secretary general started his speech on World Environment Day on 5 June.

At least it has been the hottest year since records began in the 19th century. "We are playing Russian roulette," warned Guterres. In a speech entitled 'The Moment of Truth' at the American Museum of Natural History, the UN chief lashed out at the fossil fuel industry and the other sectors that help them.

"The planet is trying to tell us something, but we are not listening to it," said Guterres. "And there’s a fifty-fifty chance that the average temperature for the entire next five-year period will be 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial times...In 2015, the likelihood of such a breach was close to zero," Guterres warned. Now the World Meteorological Organisation has confirmed that "there is an 80 per cent chance that this limit will be exceeded in the next five years."

"We are playing Russian roulette with the planet"

However, Guterres did have a positive message: "Passing the threshold for a short time does not mean that the long-term goal has not been reached. It means we have to fight harder," he stressed. He recalled that "this battle" will be won this decade and pointed out where to look: the fossil fuel industry. "Economic logic makes the end of the fossil fuel age inevitable," he said.

He remarked on World Environment Day by encouraging all actors in society. "Every city, region, industry, financial institution and business must be part of the solution," he said, adding, "It all depends on the decisions that today's leaders make - or fail to make." To them he has left the responsibility for the future of the planet and for the first time he urged them to go further: "Many governments restrict or ban advertising of products that harm human health such as tobacco. I call on them to ban advertising by fossil fuel companies."

Cutting off the tap

This call was not Guterres' only plea in his crusade against gas, coal and oil companies. "I call on financial institutions to stop financing fossil fuels," said Guterres.

In the last nine years, the fuel industry (coal, gas and oil) received almost seven trillion dollars - specifically 6.9 trillion dollars or 6.4 trillion euros according to research with data obtained from published company agreements and supplemented with information from Bloomberg and Refinitiv.

12.2 million euros per minute

received the fossil fuel industry in 2022

But this is not the only money that the sector has received. Public support in 2022 alone was 12.2 million euros per minute, totalling 6.4 billion euros at the end of the year. "Climate change is the mother of all stealth taxes paid by everyday people and vulnerable countries and communities. Meanwhile, the Godfathers of climate chaos – the fossil fuel industry – rake in record profits and feast off trillions in taxpayer-funded subsidies," said Guterres.

"The godfathers of climate chaos - the fossil fuel industry - rake in record profits and feast off trillions in taxpayer-funded subsidies"

At the end of 2023, the 192 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened the door to the end of fossil fuels, but the addiction to coal, gas and oil is still strong.

The greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fossil fuels grew to 36.8 billion tonnes of CO2 according to preliminary data from the Carbon Budget Project's science team. This is 1.1 per cent more than in 2022 and "a new record".

The leaders of this sector are another of those singled out by Guterres. "Their huge profits give them the opportunity to lead the energy transition," he said, but added that they have only invested 2.5 per cent of their profits in clean energy. "Money talks and must be a voice for change," he added.

More funding

Thousands of kilometres away from New York, in Bonn, Germany, country leaders are meeting to lay the groundwork for discussions at the next climate summit in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November.

"It is time to put an effective price on carbon and tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies"

Climate finance is on the table. The most urgent is to define the new collective quantified collective goal (NCQG) for financing climate mitigation and adaptation. In his speech, Guterres called on them to double adaptation finance and set out a clear plan to start closing the financing gap: "Today’s unequal financial flows are sending us spinning towards disaster."

According to the International Energy Agency, investments in clean energy in developing and emerging economies, excluding China, need to reach 1.7 billion dollars per year by 2030. "I urge financial institutions to stop bankrolling fossil fuel destruction and start investing in a global renewables revolution," Guterres said.

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