UN chief urges world not to yield to ‘naked greed’ of fossil fuel interests

By Valerie Volcovici

(Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a climate summit of leaders at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday that time was running out to tackle climate change, thanks in part to the “naked greed” of fossil fuel interests.

With the annual U.N. climate summit, COP28, due to take place in November and December in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Guterres implored national policymakers to step up efforts to phase out the use of climate-warming fossil fuels.

“The move from fossil fuels to renewables is happening – but we are decades behind,” Guterres said at the start of the one-day summit. “We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”

Thirty-four countries recognized for taking strong action on climate change were due to speak, including Canada, the European Union, Pakistan, South Africa and the island nation of Tuvalu.

Brazilian President Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva was due to speak first at the summit but pulled out because he fell ill. His environment minister will address the gathering later in the day.

Those not invited to speak were the world’s two top polluters – the United States and China – though U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change John Kerry was in the audience.

China’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Many of the poorest nations have every right to be angry – angry that they are suffering most from a climate crisis they did nothing to create, angry that promised finance has not materialized, and angry that their borrowing costs are sky-high,” Guterres said.

While the UAE was not among the countries selected by Guterres to talk about their climate plans, the UAE’s COP28 President Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber was scheduled to speak at the end about the country’s priorities for that two-week summit.

Guterres said he hoped the one-day U.N. mini-summit would inspire more investment and action by countries and companies to bring their climate plans in line with a global target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Kenyan President William Ruto urged creation of a universal tax on fossil fuel trade, levies on aviation and maritime emissions and financial transactions to raise trillions of dollars. “Neither Africa nor the developing world stands in need of charity” from developed countries,” Ruto said.

The climate summit was also set to hear from several international financial institutions, including the global travel insurer Allianz, multilateral lending agencies including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as London and the U.S. state of California.

The U.N.’s Green Climate Fund for disbursing climate finance to developing countries also said it planned to launch a new initiative during the event.

The summit’s purpose is not to “embarrass” countries who are lagging in action, but rather to showcase those moving forward, Guterres’ climate adviser Selwin Hart told Reuters this week.

Only countries planning to update their emissions-cutting targets toward achieving net-zero emissions, including some committing to phase out fossil fuel use without relying on carbon offsets, were invited to speak.

A U.N. report this month said current emissions pledges were insufficient for keeping the global average temperature going 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond the preindustrial average. More than 20 gigatonnes of further CO2 reductions were needed this decade – and global net zero by 2050 – in order to meet the goals.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Editing by Katy Daigle, Nick Zieminski and Howard Goller)