UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has accused some rich countries of having made a dangerous dash for fossil fuels in response to the war in Ukraine, warning the new investments being made in coal, oil and gas are “delusional” given their impact on climate change.
“The energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine has seen a perilous doubling down on fossil fuels by the major economies,” Guterres said in a video address on Tuesday to the Austrian World Summit, a climate conference held in Vienna.
The meeting marks the first important gathering of its kind since the latest United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP26 – was held in Glasgow, Scotland, last November. Critics said the summit failed to deliver the measures needed to address the climate crisis.
Meanwhile, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some countries have turned to buying more non-Russian fossil fuels or investing in new oil and gas fields to shore up their energy supplies.
For example, Germany and the Netherlands announced plans this month to develop a new North Sea gas field, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said Germany wants to pursue gas projects with Senegal.
State-owned QatarEnergy’s North Field East is expanding as part of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, and the United Kingdom is financing an LNG project in Mozambique.
Scientists warn steep emissions cuts needed
Guterres said “new funding for fossil fuel exploration and production infrastructure is delusional” and will worsen the global problems of pollution and climate change.
Scientists say global carbon dioxide emissions need to be cut roughly in half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change amid efforts to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and preferably to less than 1.5 C (2.7F) against pre-industrial levels in line with the 2015 Paris climate accord.
The countries making new fossil fuel investments have targets for cutting CO2 emissions by 2030. Germany has said diversifying its near-term gas supplies would not derail its climate plans to eventually slash fossil fuel use and hit a new ambitious target for renewable energy made since the Russian invasion began.
The International Energy Agency has called for an end to new oil, gas and coal projects in order to meet global climate goals, and says renewable energy investments must triple by 2030. Guterres called on financial actors to fund renewables.
“Had we invested massively in renewable energy in the past, we should not be so dramatically at the mercy of the instability of fossil fuel markets now,” he said, noting that soaring oil and gas prices have hiked energy bills around the world.
Guterres also urged increased funding for poorer countries as they face up to living with the impacts of climate change, saying efforts to adapt to warming temperatures should be as much of a priority as plans to cut CO2 emissions.
The next big global climate conference – COP27 – will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.