Guterres warns of climate change

Secretary General Guterres calls for taxing windfall profits from companies

By Carter Roos, Guest Writer

UN General Assembly speech criticized fossil fuel companies and called for taxing windfall profits from fossil fuel companies by UN members. 

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned the General Assembly in a Sept. 20 speech that the world is in “big trouble” and called for action to be taken against the “escalating damages” caused by climate change.

Guterres primarily focused on the impact of fossil fuel companies, calling for “all developed economies to tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies.” He then recommended that the funds from those taxes be spent in two primary areas: to support countries suffering from the effects of the climate crisis and to support people dealing with rising prices of food and energy, among other things.

Guterres’ speech highlighted two main arguments: the rising threat of global warming in the modern world and the responsibility for these issues.

Guterres’ concerns about the dangers of global warming come after a fall in emissions during global lockdowns related to COVID-19. Current global emissions, however, have already reached levels higher than those before the pandemic. Scientists estimate that the global average temperature has risen 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit since pre-industrial times and forecast as much as a 3.06 degrees total increase by 2026.

These statistics have fueled Guterres’ concerns, who considers half of the world’s population to be at risk from the impacts of climate change. 

“We see it everywhere. Planet Earth is a victim of scorched earth policies. The past year has brought us Europe’s worst heatwave since the Middle Ages, megadrought in China, the United States and beyond,” Guterres said. 

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He surmised that no region of the world was untouched and warned of a global “rendezvous with climate disaster.”

Guterres also criticized the fossil fuel industry in his speech.

“The fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits while household budgets shrink and our planet burns,” Guterres added.

While he did not mention any companies specifically in his speech, other sources have been highly critical of major oil and gas firms, which have shown record profits beginning during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Exxon officials announced a record quarterly profit of $17.8 billion during this time. Chevron also touted a three-month record of $11.6 billion in profits. In that same period, BP reportedly accrued profits upwards of $8.5 billion.

Guterres urged governments to stop not only major fossil fuel companies, but also the industries supporting them including banks, asset managers and any financial institutions that “continue to invest and underwrite carbon pollution.” Guterres also disavowed the “public relations machine,” comparing the system to that of the tobacco industry of years past and labeling the companies’ public relations as “lobbyists and spin doctors (who have) spewed harmful misinformation.”

Many of the most affected countries have reportedly prepared a document discussing what they refer to as “climate-related and justice-based” global taxes as a means of financing early warning and support systems, in hopes of mitigating the dangers of global warming.

As the issue now sits, members of the UN have agreed that there should be a new framework created  around the issue of global warming. However, there has yet to be any agreement on what this framework should entail or how it should be implemented, leaving the only real agreement on the issue of global commitment to keep global warming below 2.7 degrees per year.

“Mitigation is about reducing carbon emissions. Adaptation is about building resiliently, but what about loss and damage? When something happens, how would countries like my country respond to that and who is going to come to help us when it comes to our loss and our damages — and I think that is something that has to be factored in,” Philip Davis, Prime Minister of the Bahamas, said.

Looking forward, Guterres has called for all countries to move past “endless discussions” in order to support vulnerable regions and increase the Adaptation Fund, which helps developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change. Discussion centered around losses and damages related to global warming are set to occur at COP27, a summit taking place in Egypt this November.