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

UN chief urges world not to yield to 'naked greed' of fossil fuel interests © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 78th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 19, 2023. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File photo

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 two-week U.N. climate summit, COP28, due to start on Nov. 29 in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Guterres implored national policymakers to phase out 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.”

Guterres invited 34 countries to speak on Wednesday in recognition of their strong action on climate change, including Brazil, Canada, Pakistan, South Africa and the island nation of Tuvalu.

Those not invited to speak included 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.

Kenyan President William Ruto urged countries to create a universal tax on fossil fuel trades, 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.

California Governor Gavin Newsom spoke about his state’s leadership on climate policies, including a ban on the sale of new gas engine vehicles by 2035. He also called out the oil industry for obstructing climate action.

“This climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis,” he said, drawing applause from the heads of state and others in the room.

Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva announced Brazil was raising its emission reduction target of 50-53% below 2005 levels by 2030, reflecting President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s change of course from his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said his country had raised its emission reduction target from 20% to 40% below business-as-usual projections by 2030.

“Climate change is a top priority for my administration,” Thavisin told the gathering, his country having recently created a climate change ministry.

While the UAE did not speak about its national 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.


With 70 days left before COP28 begins, the head of the vulnerable island of Barbados questioned this week’s focus at UNGA on the war in Ukraine.

“I hope that, in the same way that we can take Ukraine seriously in the Security Council, we can take the climate crisis and the financing for it seriously,” Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said.

“This is as much of a threat – in fact a greater threat because more lives are at stake globally than are at stake in Ukraine. I have nothing against Ukraine,” she said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said countries need to meet the long-unmet target of mobilizing $100 billion per year in climate finance.

“It is a question of trust,” she said, adding the EU would be sending $27 billion as it did last year.

Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, representing the bloc of least developed countries, called for a doubling in finance for adapting to a climate-altered world, as this year is on track to be the warmest ever on record.

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, called on countries to end fossil fuel subsidies, noting that such subsidies had been increasing to a record $7 trillion last year despite a global pledge agreed in 2021 to phase them out.

By ending subsidies for polluting fuels, the world could “have $7 trillion more to spend on the climate transition,” she said.

The climate summit was also set to hear from several international financial institutions, including the global travel insurer Allianz (ETR:), multilateral lending agencies including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The U.N.’s Green Climate Fund for disbursing climate finance to developing countries also announced a goal of capitalizing at least $50 billion by 2030.

The fund will also shift its focus from supporting one-off projects to transforming whole systems, said the fund’s executive director, Mafalda Duarte.

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