The Guardian • Issue #2058


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2058

Anna Pha

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has issued a warning in the strongest terms 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,” Guterres said. “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 comments were in response to the United Arab Emirates’ call for the agenda of the next UN climate change conference (COP28) to focus on emissions, not fossil fuels. The economy of the UAE, which will host COP28 is reliant on oil and liquid natural gas. This  could see the postponement or cancellation of COP 28, due to commence on 30th November 2023.

Resource-rich countries that export fossil fuels are lined up against other wealthy states and island nations which are already sinking in rising oceans due to climate change. “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,” Guterres said. “Otherwise, they are just proposals to become more efficient planet-wreckers.”

The UN launched the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance (NZIA) of insurance companies in 2019. Insurance companies play a critical role in risk management, insurance, and investment. They are a necessary part of any fossil fuel project. The NZIA Target-Setting Protocol requires NZIA members to set science-based, intermediate targets for their insurance and reinsurance underwriting portfolios in line with a net-zero transition pathway consistent with a maximum temperature rise of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. NZIA members were required to independently set and disclose their initial target(s) by 31st July 2023. The Alliance had 30 members up until a couple of months ago but since then 13 members have left. Not all have given reasons, but some cited anti-trust laws. Anti-trust laws prohibit the operation of cartels for such purposes as price fixing, restraining trade, and lessening competition.

Pro-fossil fuel Republicans in the US, backed by fossil fuel companies, claimed that such a climate alliance could contravene anti-trust laws by aligning their policies. This is nonsense, but has been used as an excuse by some insurance companies to back out of their commitments. After all, pursuing a sustainable path means loss of business with some of the largest and most profitable corporations. “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,” Guterres said.

“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,” Guterres said. Insurance companies as well as banks and superannuation funds should knee-cap the fossil fuel producers by refusing to do business with them.

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