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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

UN chief calls for a windfall tax and advertising ban for fossil fuels


UN Secretary General António Guterres during speech Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten
Speaking on World Environment Day, UN Secretary General António Guterres said it was ‘climate crunch time’ as he called for a windfall tax on the profits of fossil fuel companies as well as an outright ban on fossil fuel advertising

Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten

UN Secretary General António Guterres has called for a windfall tax on the profits of fossil fuel companies to help pay for the fight against climate change, as well as an outright ban on fossil fuel advertising. Meanwhile, newly published reports suggest no new fossil fuel projects will be needed in the transition to net zero; stronger plans are needed to meet the COP28 goal of tripling global renewable capacity by 2030; and Europe is in danger of missing its 2030 net zero targets.

Speaking at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on World Environment Day on 5 June, Guterres noted that the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service had just reported that May 2024 had been the hottest May in recorded history; while the World Meteorological Organisation had reported that there is an 80% chance the global annual average temperature will exceed the 1.5°C limit targeted by the Paris Agreement in at least one of the next five years.  


Furthermore, pointing to brand new data from leading climate scientists which suggest the remaining carbon budget to limit long-term warming to 1.5°C is now around 200bn tonnes, Guterres warned that the world was burning through that budget at ‘reckless speed’ – emitting some 40bn t/y of CO2. ‘At this rate, the entire carbon budget will be busted before 2030,’ he said. He also noted that although ‘global emissions need to fall 9% every year until 2030 to keep the 1.5-degree limit alive’, they are in fact ‘heading in the wrong direction’, actually rising by 1% last year.


‘It’s climate crunch time.’ Guterres continued. ‘The need for action is unprecedented but so is the opportunity – not just to deliver on climate, but on economic prosperity and sustainable development.’


Calling for rapid political action to slash emissions and boost climate finance, Guterres stated that there was a need to ‘clamp down’ on the fossil fuel industry, which he called the ‘godfathers of climate chaos’.


Guterrez, a former socialist Prime Minister of Portugal, said that it was high time an effective price was put on carbon and called for a windfall tax on the profits of fossil fuel companies. Furthermore, claiming the fossil fuel industry had ‘shamelessly greenwashed’ and sought to ‘delay climate action with lobbying, legal action and massive advertising campaigns’ over the years, the UN Secretary General said that, just as tobacco advertising had been banned because of the threat to health, the same should now happen to the fossil fuel industry. ‘I urge every country to ban advertising from fossil fuel companies... And I urge news media and tech companies to stop taking fossil fuel advertising,’ he said.


Lastly, he called for action on the demand side. ‘All of us can make a difference, by embracing clean technologies, phasing down fossil fuels in our own lives, and using our power as citizens to push for systemic change,’ he said.  


Responding to Guterres’ speech, representatives from the fossil fuel sector said they were committed to reducing emissions from their operations, with Megan Bloomgren, Senior Vice President of Communications at the American Petroleum Institute (API) telling the BBC that: ‘Our industry is focused on continuing to produce affordable, reliable energy while tackling the climate challenge, and any allegations to the contrary are false.’


Environmental organisations such as Greenpeace welcomed the call for a windfall tax, with Aakash Naik, Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, saying: ‘We need our leaders to stand up and force the industry to stop drilling and start paying for the climate chaos they are fuelling worldwide.’  


No new fossil fuel projects needed in the transition to net zero

Meanwhile, a new study by researchers from University College London (UCL) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) suggests that no new fossil fuel projects are needed to meet projected energy demands in a global transition to net zero emissions.  


Their policy paper, published in Science in the week running up to World Environment Day, argues that stopping new fossil fuel projects is a crucial step for countries to achieve their climate goals. It recommends that governments ‘legislate to ban new fossil fuel projects’ as this is ‘easier politically, economically and legally than closing operational projects early’.


The research extends work by the International Energy Agency which found in a 2021 report (updated in 2023) that no new fossil fuel extraction projects are needed in the transition to net zero emissions by 2050.


Stronger plans needed to meet COP28 goal

In other news, a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that countries’ ambitions and implementation plans are not yet in line with the key COP28 goal of tripling global renewable capacity by 2030.  


The report finds that while renewable power is at the heart of achieving international energy and climate goals, very few countries have explicitly laid out 2030 targets for installed capacity in their existing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. Official commitments in NDCs currently amount to 1,300 GW – just 12% of what is required to meet the global tripling objective set in Dubai, according to the IEA.


However, new country-by-country analysis by the Agency – covering nearly 150 countries worldwide – finds that governments’ domestic ambitions actually go much further, corresponding to almost 8,000 GW of global installed renewable capacity by 2030. This means that if countries were to include all their existing policies, plans and estimates in their new NDCs due next year – which will include revised ambitions for 2030 and new goals for 2035 – they would reflect 70% of what is needed by 2030 to reach the tripling goal, which corresponds to 11,000 GW of installed renewable capacity globally.


This indicates ample scope for countries to bring their NDCs in line with their current domestic ambitions – although the report emphasises that countries also need to accelerate implementation. At the same time, countries need to raise their ambitions to align with the tripling goal set at COP28, concludes the IEA.


EU’s 2030 net zero targets out of reach  

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) is set to fall far behind its ambitious energy transition targets for renewable energy, clean technology capacity and domestic supply chain investments, according to the latest research and modelling from Rystad Energy. The bloc’s capital investments (capex) in clean technologies – including renewables; carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS); hydrogen; batteries and nuclear – totalled $125bn in 2023, dwarfed by China’s spending of $390bn in the same sectors.  


The US is currently behind the EU in annual clean-tech spending, investing $86bn in 2023, but the US Inflation Reduction Act is set to spur investments while the EU’s spending will plateau in the years to come, forecasts Rystad.