The UN Secretary General has accused fossil fuel producers and their financial backers of “racing to expand production, knowing full well that their business model is inconsistent with human survival.”
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, António Guterres said the commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels is “going up in smoke.”
“We are flirting with climate disaster. Every week brings a new climate horror story,” he said.
Guterres pointed blame squarely at the fossil fuel industry when addressing the Davos crowd, composed of billionaires, politicians and business leaders, including dozes of high level executives from the world’s biggest oil and gas companies.
“We learned last week that certain fossil fuel producers were fully aware in the 1970s that their core product was baking our planet,” he said, alluding to an analysis that showed ExxonMobil’s own scientists accurately predicted future global warming in reports dating back decades, despite the company publicly continuing for years to cast doubt on climate science and lobby against climate action.
“Just like the tobacco industry, they rode rough-shod over their own science. Big Oil peddled the big lie. And like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held to account,” Guterres told the conference.
It is unclear whether ExxonMobil has any representatives in Davos. None are on the official attendee list and the company did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement to CNN last week about the analysis, Todd Spitler, a spokesperson for the company, said: “ExxonMobil is committed to being part of the solution to climate change and the risks it poses,” and “those who talk about how ‘Exxon knew’ are wrong.”
The World Economic Forum has made climate one of the themes of this year’s gathering in the Swiss mountain resort, with a number of panel discussions dedicated to topics such as energy transition and sustainability.
But Guterres has warned that many businesses are setting up climate targets based on “dubious or murky” criteria.
“This misleads consumers, investors and regulators with false narratives. It feeds a culture of climate misinformation and confusion. And it leaves the door wide open to greenwashing,” he said.
A new report published on Tuesday by the campaign group Reclaim Finance revealed that dozens of banks and financial institutions with net zero pledges are still pouring money into fossil fuels.
The report analyzed finance organizations that signed up to the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero pact, agreeing to align their investments with the ambition of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees – a key agreement struck at the 2021 COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Since signing, however, it found members have invested hundreds of billions into fossil fuels.
Guterres called on companies to “put forward credible and transparent transition plans on how to achieve net zero,” by the end of 2023.
As the Davos meeting continues, a group of international climate activists including Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, Greta Thunberg from Sweden, Helena Gualinga from Ecuador and Luisa Neubauer from Germany, have launched a “cease and desist” petition, calling on fossil fuel CEOs to “immediately stop opening any new oil, gas or coal extraction sites, and stop blocking the clean energy transition.” The petition has been signed by 800,000 people and counting.
Read More: UN chief slams fossil fuel industry expansion in Davos speech