A “big lie”: On Wednesday, the UN Secretary-General called for criminal prosecution of both the oil companies and the tobacco companies because they had kept their information about global warming secret for years.
“Some fossil fuel producers in the 1970s were well aware that their flagship product was going to burn up the planet,” Antonio Guterres said in a speech at the forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“But like the tobacco industry, they have ignored their own science,” he added, concluding that “some oil giants have been peddling the big lie.”
As far back as the 1980s, US oil company ExxonMobil had made remarkably accurate global warming predictions from its own scientists, which decades later turned out to be exactly what a study published Thursday in the prestigious journal Science confirmed.
However, the company has publicly doubted the state of scientific knowledge in this area for years, as this publication also pointed out.
After being published in Science magazine, an ExxonMobil spokesperson told AFP that “this question” had “been raised multiple times over the last several years,” adding that “every time our answer is the same: those who point out what Exxon knew they were wrong in their conclusions. »
According to Antonio Guterres, “those responsible must be prosecuted,” as the tobacco companies have done. A reference to the $246 billion that tobacco giants in the United States agreed to pay to 46 states over 25 years in 1998 to help meet the cost of treating ex-smokers.
The ExxonMobil Group has been accused for a number of years of leading a dual discourse on global warming caused by the immense amounts of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere by humanity, particularly through the burning of coal and oil for energy .
When asked about the issue by the French broadcaster BFM Business in Davos, the boss of the French hydrocarbon giant TotalEnergies, Patrick Pouyanné, said his group “didn’t know anything at all”. “I don’t have any climate scientists at TotalEnergies,” he said.
“The first thing I want to see now would be oil and gas companies joining the other critical business groups, many of whom are working diligently here to address the climate crisis,” he told AFP, the United States special envoy for climate change You, John Kerry.
Former US Vice President and climate activist Al Gore, also present in Switzerland, was more direct: “The oil, gas and coal industry fights tooth and nail against any climate legislation at the national, regional, local and municipal levels” and uses “their political influence and wealth to prevent progress,” he accused.
The question of the impact of the oil industry on the planet is all the more urgent today as “every week brings its share of terrible stories,” worried the UN Secretary-General, who speaks of “flirting with the climate catastrophe”.
Last Thursday, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that the past eight years have been the hottest on record.
“The oil has to stay in the ground,” 20-year-old Ecuadorian Amazon activist Helena Gualinga told AFP in an interview. Along with Greta Thunberg from Sweden and other young activists, she is one of the new faces of the mobilization against climate change.
But that is not the direction the oil industry is taking, Antonio Guterres laments: “Nowadays, fossil fuel producers and those who support them continue to fight to increase production, knowing full well that their economic model is incompatible with the survival of humanity is. »
The UN Secretary-General also criticized the “dubious” or “opaque” climate commitments of many companies for a zero-carbon target: It “misleads consumers, investors and regulators with false narratives” and opens the floodgates for “greenwashing”.
“Our climate commitments require the full engagement of the private sector” because “the battle for the 1.5 degree target (of global warming) will be won or lost in this decade,” he said.