'Polluters must pay': UN chief Guterres calls for taxes to help climate victims

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged rich countries to help other countries harmed by the climate crisis. PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS - UN chief Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged rich countries to tax windfall profits of fossil fuel companies and use that money to help countries harmed by the climate crisis and people who are struggling with rising food and energy prices.

Addressing world leaders at the 193-member United Nations General Assembly, the climate activist secretary-general stepped up his attacks on oil and gas companies, which have seen their profits explode by tens of billions of dollars.

"The fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits while household budgets shrink and our planet burns," he said.

While Mr Guterres again pushed developed countries to tax the fossil fuel windfall profits, this time he also used his bully pulpit to spell out where the money should be spent.

"Those funds should be redirected in two ways: to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis, and to people struggling with rising food and energy prices," he told the annual gathering of world leaders in New York.

Britain has passed a 25 per cent windfall tax on oil and gas producers in the North Sea, while US lawmakers have discussed a similar idea, though it faces long odds in Congress.

"Polluters must pay," Mr Guterres said.

He also said multilateral development banks "must step up and deliver" and that helping poor countries adapt to worsening climate shocks "must make up half of all climate finance".

Mr Guterres added: "Major economies are their shareholders and must make it happen."

World leaders’ speeches at the annual session of the UN General Assembly began Tuesday with a notable change of protocol: The president of the United States will not be speaking on the first day. Because he was in London on Monday attending the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II along with many other world leaders, President Joe Biden will speak on Wednesday morning.

The US hosts the UN headquarters, so the US president traditionally speaks second after Brazil, whose leader has traditionally spoken first since the 1950s.

President Emmanuel Macron of France will be another notable speaker on Tuesday afternoon, reiterating the threat to world order and international law because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine and its many rippling effects will be a major theme of the General Assembly this week. 

The United States, the European Union and the African Union are jointly hosting a conference on Tuesday to address the global food insecurity crisis and appease the concerns of developing countries who say the West has ignored their problems and focused too much of its attention and aid on Ukraine. 

“Our world is in big trouble. Divides are growing deeper. Inequalities are growing wider. And challenges are spreading farther,” Mr Guterres said on Tuesday. “We need action across the board.”

He said crises such as the conflict in Ukraine, climate emergency and biodiversity loss, and the dire financial situation of developing countries threaten the very future of humanity and the fate of the planet.

Progress on all these issues and more is being held hostage to geopolitical tensions, he noted.

"Geopolitical divides are undermining the work of the Security Council, undermining international law, undermining trust and people’s faith in democratic institutions, undermining all forms of international cooperation,” he said.

“We cannot go on like this,” he added. REUTERS, NYTIMES

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