UN secretary-general António Guterres has criticised the oil and gas industry’s attempts to reduce fossil fuel emissions using carbon capture and storage technologies (CCUS), rather than reducing the fuels themselves.
Speaking on Thursday as part of the UN climate talks taking place this week in Bonn, Germany, Guterres accused fossil fuel producers of justifying expansion by using CCUS “proposals to become more efficient planet wreckers”.
“The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It is fossil fuels, period,” he added.
While Guterres said that his comments were “not aimed at any one individual” but were an appeal to “those who have the power to change”, they come amid concern over COP28 president Sultan Al-Jaber’s fossil fuel stance.
During talks in Bonn, Al-Jaber admitted for the first time that a fossil fuel phasedown “is inevitable”. However, prior to this, he has maintained that the emissions are what must be reduced, not the fuels themselves.
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As CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil company, his appointment as COP28 president has been controversial. In May, more than 130 US lawmakers and members of the European Parliament wrote an open letter to the UN requesting his removal, due to concern over “private sector polluters” exerting “undue influence”.
Time to “face facts”
Guterres said on Thursday that we must “face facts” and address “the polluted heart of the climate crisis: the fossil fuel industry”.
“We are hurtling towards disaster, eyes wide open, with far too many willing to bet it all on wishful thinking, unproven technologies and silver bullet solutions,” he added.
The use of CCUS to reduce emissions has become controversial in recent years. Many oil majors maintain that it is a necessary step to reach net zero. However, some environmentalists claim that CCUS enables greenwashing as producers can claim to be engaging in climate measures without reducing production.
According to Guterres, for every dollar invested into the oil and gas industry, only $0.04 are invested in clean energy and carbon capture combined. “Trading the future for thirty pieces of silver is immoral,” he said.
The Bonn conference marks the halfway point between COPs. The EU proposed an agenda item to accelerate emissions targets, but it was ultimately not accepted following pushback from major oil-producing nations including Saudi Arabia. Instead, the discussion will be recorded in a “note”.