UNITED NATIONS — The head of the United Nations sharply criticized the “grotesque greed” of oil and gas companies on Wednesday for making record profits from the energy crisis on the backs of the world’s poorest people “while destroying our only home.”
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was “immoral” that the biggest energy companies in the first quarter of the year made a combined profit of nearly $100 billion.
He called on all governments to tax these excessive profits “and use the funds to support the most vulnerable people in these difficult times”.
Guterres urged people everywhere to send a message to the fossil fuel industry and their financiers that “this grotesque greed is punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people while destroying our only common home, the planet.”
The Secretary-General spoke at the press conference, presenting a report of the Global Crisis Response Group, which he established to address the triple interlinked crises of food, energy and finance, which have particularly affected countries trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and deal with the devastating consequences of the war in Ukraine.
Guterres told reporters that “we are seeing excessive, outrageous profits by the oil and gas industry at a time when we are all losing money” because of inflation around 7-8%. And “nothing would be more popular than taxing excess profits … and distributing that money to the most vulnerable families,” he said.
The crisis group has already presented recommendations on food and finance, and Guterres said he believed “we are making some progress” in those areas, especially on food.
The report, published on Wednesday, focused on the energy crisis and the secretary-general said it aimed to achieve the equivalent of the grain deal he first proposed to the Russian and Ukrainian presidents to allow Ukrainian grain to be transported from the blockaded from Russian Black Sea ports Sea to world markets in desperate need of food supplies. The first ship to leave Ukraine headed for Lebanon on Wednesday after a three-hour inspection in Turkish waters.
A general view of the PKN Orlen refinery in Plock, Poland on June 15, 2022.
Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Guterres said that speculators and obstacles to the supply of grain and fertilizers to world markets during the war in Ukraine had led to a spike in food prices. But since the grain deal negotiations “gained steam”, he said, there has been a “significant decline” and today prices of most food and fertilizers are more or less at their pre-war prices.
“But that doesn’t mean that the bread in the bakery is at the same price as before the war, because these are quotations in the wholesale markets, some of them related to futures,” he said, and there are many other factors that contribute to rising prices, including transportation and insurance costs and supply chain disruptions.
U.N. trade chief Rebecca Greenspan, who coordinates the crisis group, said wheat prices are down nearly 50 percent from their peak, corn and fertilizer prices are down nearly 25 percent in the past month, and crude oil is now around $93 a barrel compared to $120 a barrel in June. “Only natural gas has bucked the trend and is still higher than a month ago,” she told reporters via video from Geneva.
Falling prices are “good news,” Greenspan said, but they have been high for too long, and since June, estimates of extreme poverty have increased by 71 million people and estimates of food insecurity by 47 million.
In another key recommendation, the crisis group called on wealthier developed countries, in particular, to save energy, including by reducing the use of air conditioning and heating and by promoting public transport “and nature-based solutions”.
Guterres said new technologies, including battery storage, “must become public goods” and governments should scale up and diversify supply chains for raw materials and renewable energy technologies.
The group also recommends increasing private and multilateral financing for the “green energy transition.” And it supported the International Energy Agency’s goal of increasing investment in renewable energy by a factor of seven to meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050 to help limit the human climate change.
“Today, developing countries spend about $150 billion on clean energy,” said Greenspan, secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. “They need to spend $1 trillion on investment.”
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