UN chief tells fossil fuel firms: stop trying to ‘knee-cap’ climate progress

Countries must start phasing out oil, coal and gas rather than just emissions, António Guterres says

UN secretary general António Guterres said on Thursday that countries must start phasing out oil, coal and gas – not just emissions – and demanded fossil fuel companies “cease and desist” measures that aim to “knee-cap” climate progress.

“The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It’s fossil fuels – period,” Mr Guterres told reporters. “The solution is clear: The world must phase out fossil fuels in a just and equitable way - moving to leave oil, coal and gas in the ground.”

His remarks come after the United Arab Emirates, which will host UN climate change negotiations (COP28) later this year, said talks should focus on phasing out emissions, not fossil fuels. Negotiators are struggling to agree to an agenda for COP28, due to start November 30th, which could put talks at risk.

Some wealthy western states and climate-afflicted island nations have been pushing for a phase out of fossil fuels, while resource-rich countries have campaigned to keep drilling.


“Fossil fuel companies must also cease and desist influence peddling and legal threats designed to knee-cap progress. I am thinking particularly of recent attempts to subvert net-zero alliances, invoking anti-trust legislation,” Mr Guterres said.

Republican politicians in some US states pushing back against sustainability efforts have charged that companies in such climate alliances and using environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards could be breaking anti-trust laws by aligning their policies.

At least seven members of the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance, launched in 2021, have left – including five of the eight founding parties – over what they say are legal concerns about antitrust lawsuits.

“Governments are pivotal in setting the record straight. They must help by providing clear reassurance: Collective climate action does not violate anti-trust - it upholds the public trust,” Mr Guterres said after meeting with a group of civil society climate leaders from around the world.

He also called out companies for not yet reaching modest operational emissions reductions targets they have set and for relying too heavily on “dubious offset” credits.

For example, Shell plans to scrap its target to reduce oil output by 1 per cent to 2 per cent per year having already largely reached its goal for production cuts, mainly through selling oil assets such as its US shale business.

“Fossil fuel industry transition plans must be transformation plans, that chart a company’s move to clean energy – and away from a product incompatible with human survival,” Mr Guterres said. “Otherwise, they are just proposals to become more efficient planet-wreckers.”

He called on them to create detailed plans that include emissions-reduction targets not just for their operations but that target their end use. – Reuters