Fossil Fuel Companies Impeding Climate Progress, Warn Former UN Officials

Former Irish President Mary Robinson and ex-UN Chief Ban Ki-moon warn that fossil fuel companies are hindering global climate efforts by lobbying against treaties and seeking compensation for lost earnings. Over 2,000 investment treaties could result in $62 billion in compensation to fossil fuel companies over five years.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Fossil Fuel Companies Impeding Climate Progress, Warn Former UN Officials

Fossil Fuel Companies Impeding Climate Progress, Warn Former UN Officials

Former Irish President Mary Robinson and ex-UN Chief Ban Ki-moon have sounded the alarm that fossil fuel companies are hindering global efforts to combat climate change. These companies are forcing governments to compensate them for lost earnings in the transition to a low-carbon economy and lobbying against climate treaties, including the Energy Charter Treaty and COP climate talks.

Why this matters: The obstruction of climate progress by fossil fuel companies has far-reaching consequences for the planet's ability to mitigate the effects of climate change, and it undermines global cooperation to address this critical issue. If left unchecked, it could lead to catastrophic climate-related disasters and irreversible damage to the environment.

Robinson revealed that fossil fuel companies are using "investment treaties" to secure billions in compensation from governments when they reduce their reliance on oil, gas, and coal. "It is well worth looking at these investment treaties, there are lots of them – 2,000 of various sorts... [Under their terms], if countries do the right thing on climate, they have to compensate fossil fuel companies. And they compensate to the tune of $62bn (£49bn) over a five-year period. It's another of these hidden subsidies. I was outraged," she stated.

Over 2,000 such treaties exist, with compensation totaling $62 billion over a five-year period, according to Robinson. Several countries, including the UK, France, Germany, and Spain, have objected to the energy charter treaty. Fossil fuel lobbyists have also weakened a hoped-for treaty on plastic waste and are increasingly hampering the UN's annual Cop climate talks.

"We've seen their role at Cops, we've seen it for a number of years, and it's intensifying. That's the problem, it's a progression," Robinson noted. The plastics treaty was "watered down" last month, and plans for a global resolution to phase out fossil fuels at last year's Cop summit in Dubai were also weakened.

Ban Ki-moon has called for at least £1.2 trillion of investment in helping developing countries make the transition to a low-carbon economy. "Climate change is now approaching much, much faster than we might have thought. There is no time to lose. As a former secretary general, I think that if there is firm political will we can mobilise all this money," he urged.

The warnings from Robinson and Ban come as the world struggles to reduce emissions and meet climate goals. Fossil fuel consumption has increased significantly over the past half century, around eightfold since 1950 and roughly twofold since 1980. Fossil fuels contribute over 75% of global GHG emissions and nearly 90% of carbon dioxide emissions.

Current policies point to a rise in temperature to 2.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, and current pledges could only slow this increase to 1.8-2.1 degrees. "The path to reduced GHG emissions has to include a drastic reduction of fossil fuels," states UNEP's Emissions Gap Report 2022. However, globally in 2021, fossil fuels accounted for 82% of energy generation, while renewables made up only 18% of the world's primary energy use.

The dominance of fossil fuels in energy generation, the high cost of transition, and the strong fossil fuel lobby are significant obstacles to overcome. The number of lobbyists working on behalf of the fossil fuel industry with access to COP28 rose to at least 2,456 from 636 at the COP27 summit. The recent COP28 conference in Dubai fell short of expectations, with the announcement of a $400 million Loss and Damage Fund being deemed insufficient to meet its objectives.

Key Takeaways

  • Fossil fuel companies hinder climate progress, seeking billions in compensation for lost earnings.
  • Over 2,000 investment treaties exist, with $62bn in compensation over 5 years.
  • Fossil fuel lobbyists weaken climate treaties, including the Energy Charter Treaty and COP talks.
  • $1.2 trillion is needed to help developing countries transition to a low-carbon economy.
  • Fossil fuels account for 82% of energy generation, hindering efforts to reduce GHG emissions.