UN Chief Calls for Halt to New Fossil Fuel Development Ahead of Climate Ambition Summit

ON 03/21/2023 AT 12:03 AM

The United Nations Secretary General set strong conditions for joining a global climate ambition summit in September, including ceasing all licensing and funding of new oil and gas development and halting expansion of existing oil and gas reserves. This price of entry puts the United States at risk of being shut out of the meeting. 

The announcement from U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres came as the latest U.N. climate report declared drastic fossil fuel cuts are necessary to avert catastrophic warming.

“If U.S. leaders can’t make a serious commitment to phasing out fossil fuels, they risk having the door to climate diplomacy shut in their faces,” said Jean Su, director of the Energy Justice program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Days after approving the Willow Project, President Biden and the U.S. have clearly lost moral authority on climate at this crucial moment. It's not too late for Biden to change course and be the climate leader the world needs, but he can’t keep torching his climate campaign promises and the rest of the planet with them.”

As part of the Secretary General’s “Acceleration Agenda” for his September summit, Guterres also called for developed countries to reach net-zero electricity generation by 2035 and economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2040.

This report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change distilled six years of research from more than 1,000 scientists. It emphasizes that drastic political action is needed to avoid climate breakdown. The key actions recommended are stopping all new fossil fuel development and phasing out existing fossil fuel usage, accompanied by increasing renewable energy investments.

Without deep, fast cuts to fossil fuel expansion, the world is hurtling toward a future of new weather extremes, rising seas, animal and plant extinctions, and deadly consequences for people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

The U.N. report came on the heels of new research finding that Arctic sea ice has never recovered from a dramatic drop in 2007. It is becoming thinner, weaker and more prone to melting. This year’s Arctic sea ice maximum was the fifth lowest on record.

“Reading the U.N.’s latest dire climate warnings just days after Biden approved massive new Arctic oil drilling is utterly infuriating,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The fossil-fueled path to more climate disasters, mass displacements and wildlife extinctions is bleak, but it’s not inevitable. Chief among world leaders, Biden has the tools to not only ratchet up renewables but move us decisively off fossil fuels. Scientists have mapped the way to a livable planet, but we need the political will to get us there.”

The Biden administration recently approved the Willow project in Alaska, which will create pollution estimated to be equivalent to that emitted by nearly 70 coal-fired power plants over a year. The Center and other environmental organizations have challenged the approval.