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Stop funding new oil & gas plans, expanding reserves: UN Chief Guterres

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday called upon nations to cease the of all new discoveries and projects, and stop the expansion of existing reserves if the world has to avert a climate catastrophe.

Speaking at the launch of the Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on (IPCC) on Monday, Guterres said while the climate time bomb is ticking, a concerted effort can still defuse it.

He called for shifting subsidies from fossil fuels towards a clean energy transition, along with a global phase-down of existing production, compatible with the 2050 global net-zero target.

The UN secretary-general’s comments come at a time when the Indian government is looking to expand the area under hydrocarbon exploration to 1 million square km by 2030. It also plans to almost double its oil refining capacity to 450 mt in the next 10 years to meet the rising domestic fuel demand, as well as cater to the export market.

Eyes on G20

Last year, Guterres proposed to the a Climate Solidarity Pact – in which all big emitters make extra efforts to cut emissions, and wealthier countries mobilise financial and technical resources to support emerging economies in a common effort.

On Monday, he announced an urgent ‘all-hands-on-deck’ Acceleration Agenda to achieve this. “This starts with parties immediately hitting the fast-forward button on their net zero deadlines to get to global net zero by 2050 – in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances,” he said.

Guterres said net-zero carbon electricity generation by 2035 should be attempted by all developed countries, while the rest of the world should target 2040. “Leaders in emerging economies must commit to reaching (overall) net zero as close as possible to 2050,” he said.

He also called upon the nations to pool their resources and scientific capacities, as well as their proven and affordable technologies through the public and private sectors to make carbon neutrality a reality by 2050.

“By the end of COP28 (in November 2023), I count on all leaders to have committed to ambitious new economy-wide nationally determined contributions encompassing all greenhouse gases and indicating their absolute emissions cuts targets for 2035 and 2040,” Guterres said.

The transition must cover the entire economy and partial pledges won’t cut it, he added. However, the existing pace of negotiations makes this a difficult target.

Climate for adaptation and energy transition has been a key area of focus for India during this ongoing presidency of the G20. However, talks have moved forward slowly as nations have focussed much more on the Ukraine war and the geopolitics over energy supply chains.

Onus on the private sector

“I am also calling on CEOs of all oil and gas companies to be part of the solution,” Guterres said. According to the Energy Agency, global investments in upstream oil and gas rose for three years in a row to reach $483 billion in 2019, before crashing to $328 billion in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic.

Guterres said CEOs should present credible, comprehensive, and detailed transition plans, in line with the recommendations of the UN High-Level Expert Group on net-zero pledges.

These plans must clearly detail actual emission cuts for 2025 and 2030, and efforts to change business models to phase out fossil fuels and scale up renewable energy. “This acceleration has already started in some sectors, but investors now need crystal clear signals,” Guterres said.

The latest IPCC report has argued that arresting global rise in temperatures to the 1.5-degrees C limit above pre-industrial levels is achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action.

It called for massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe.

The rate of temperature rise in the last half-century is the highest in 2,000 years while concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest in at least two million years, it said.

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