In a stern speech, the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said, countries should impose windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies and divert the money to vulnerable nations suffering worsening losses from the climate crisis. He sent out a stern message that “polluters must pay” for the escalating damage caused by heatwaves, floods, drought and other climate impacts while addressing the77th session of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. The UN chief demanded that it was “high time to put fossil fuel producers, investors and enablers on notice”.
Guterres minced no words while speaking at one of the largest gatherings, after the COVID-19 pandemic restricted in-person attendance the previous two years, where more than 150 heads of state and government were attending the annual gathering in New York. He spoke about how the fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits while household budgets continue to shrink and the planet burns.
He also spelled out where the money should be spent. “Those funds should be redirected in two ways: to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis; and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices.”
Guterres’s appeal came in his most urgent, and bleakest, speech to date on the state of the planet, and the will of governments to change course. His first words were: “Our world is in big trouble.” Asking the economies to invest in solutions that lead to sustainable economic growth, he spoke about how renewable energy can generate three times more jobs, is cheaper than fossil fuels and is the pathway to energy security.
The UN chief remarked, “Let’s have no illusions. We are in rough seas. A winter of global discontent is on the horizon, a cost-of-living crisis is raging, trust is crumbling, inequalities are exploding and our planet is burning.” He urged on the duty to act. “Yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction. The international community is not ready or willing to tackle the big dramatic challenges of our age,” he told the assembly.
Guterres who delivered a pointed speech has never shied away from criticising governments of having an “addiction” to fossil fuels. He has also called new investments in oil, coal and gas “moral and economic madness”.
“The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time,” he said, urging governments and multilateral organisations to treat it as “first priority”. He pointed out how climate action continues to be put on the back burner despite overwhelming public support around the world.
“We have a rendezvous with a climate disaster … The hottest summers of today may be the coolest summers of tomorrow. Once-in-a-lifetime climate shocks may soon become once-a-year events. And with every climate disaster, we know that women and girls are the most affected. The climate crisis is a case study in moral and economic injustice.”
Guterres said it was “high time to move beyond endless discussions” and deliver finance for vulnerable countries and for wealthy nations to double adaption funding by 2025. All eyes are now set on what happens at COP27, one of the largest annual climate summits where loss and damage will continue to take centre stage. “It is high time to move beyond endless discussions. Vulnerable countries need meaningful action.”
Meanwhile, Denmark has become the first UN member country to pledge funds to developing countries specifically for “tab of skader”, which translates to “loss and damage”. The Nordic nation committed 100 million DKK ($13m) to build resilience and help climate victims recover during a ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the Assembly.