U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday condemned fossil fuel giants for ignoring their own climate science, accusing the oil and gas industry of seeking to expand production despite knowing “full well” that their business model is incompatible with human survival.
“Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie,” Guterres said during a special address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “And like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held to account.”
His comments come shortly after research showed how Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies, accurately forecast global heating as long ago as the 1970s only to then spend decades publicly contradicting their own research.
The study, published last week in the journal Science, said that Exxon’s private projections of global temperature rise were often more accurate than world-leading NASA scientists. Exxon has since denied the accusations.
Research papers have previously found that Exxon was aware of the dangers of global heating since the late 1970s, while other oil industry bodies knew of the risks associated with burning fossil fuels since at least the 1950s.
The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, is the chief driver of the climate emergency.
“Every week brings a new climate horror story,” Guterres said, warning that the commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels was “going up in smoke.” This temperature threshold is the aspirational target set in the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.
It is recognized as crucial because beyond this level, so-called tipping points become more likely. These are thresholds at which small changes can lead to dramatic shifts in Earth’s entire life support system.
Guterres said that without further action, humanity was on course for a global temperature increase of 2.8 degrees Celsius.
“The consequences will be devastating. Several parts of our planet will be uninhabitable. And for many, this is a death sentence,” he said.
“But it is not a surprise,” Guterres said. “The science has been clear for decades. I am not talking only about U.N. scientists. I am talking even about fossil fuel scientists.”
Referring to the research published in Science last week, Guterres said, “Just like the tobacco industry, they rode rough-shod over their own science.”
“Today, fossil fuel producers and their enablers are still racing to expand production, knowing full well that this business model is inconsistent with human survival,” he continued.
“Now, this insanity belongs in science-fiction, yet we know the ecosystem meltdown is cold, hard scientific fact.”
The world’s leading climate scientists warned last year that the fight to keep global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius had reached “now or never” territory. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reaffirmed calls for a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use to curb global heating.