Some big oil companies ignored their own science on the dangers of climate change and “peddled the big lie” for decades about the safety of burning fossil fuels, the United Nations chief said.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered a sobering message to the elite gathering of world leaders and corporate executives in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.
The world is in a “sorry state” because of myriad interlinked challenges – including climate change and Russia’s war in Ukraine – which are “piling up like cars in a chain reaction crash” amid the “gravest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust in generations”, said Guterres.
He singled out climate change as an “existential challenge” and said a global commitment to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) “is nearly going up in smoke”.
“Every week brings another climate horror story. Greenhouse gases are at record levels and growing. Without action, we are going up to a 2.8C increase and the consequences – as we all know – would be devastating.
“Several parts of our planet will be uninhabitable and for many, it will be a death sentence.”
‘Baking our planet’
Guterres, who has been one of the most outspoken world figures on climate change, referenced a recent study that found scientists at Exxon Mobil made remarkably accurate predictions about the effects of climate change as far back as the 1970s, even as the company publicly doubted global warming was real.
“The science has been clear for decades. I’m not talking only about UN scientists, I’m talking even about fossil fuel scientists,” Guterres said.
“We learned last week that certain fossil fuel producers were fully aware in the 1970s that their core product was baking our planet, and just like the tobacco industry, they rode roughshod over their own science.
“Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie. And like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held to account.”
Exxon Mobil has disputed the report’s findings.