UN leader slams oil companies for ‘grotesque greed’

By Farnaz Fassihi

NEW YORK – The secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, slammed oil companies on Wednesday (3) for their “grotesque greed” and excessive profiting from rising fuel prices during the Ukraine war. He called for countries to tax those profits and distribute the proceeds to the poor.

The combined profits of the largest energy companies in the first quarter of this year were approximately $100 billion, Guterres said. He said every country had a role in the energy crisis and could be part of a solution, adding that there was “no room for hypocrisy”.

“It is immoral for oil and gas companies to be making record profits from this energy crisis on the backs of the poorest people and communities and at a massive cost to the climate,” Guterres told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York.

Soaring prices have sparked a debate. In the United States, Republicans have blamed federal regulations and environmental policies for shortfalls in energy production, while Democrats have asked why companies did not lower gasoline prices as oil prices eased somewhat since spiking after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Testifying before Congress in April, oil executives from six large companies said they were not engaging in price gouging and were merely responding to global commodity prices that were out of their control.

The UN has warned that the war in Ukraine has had far-reaching impact beyond its borders on food, energy and financial markets. Prices for fuels and food have risen across the world. Many countries are battling inflation, higher interest rates and growing debts.

Guterres said that the global energy crisis sparked by the war could lead to more political, social and economic upheavals, particularly in developing countries.

The United Nations formed a Global Crisis Response Group this year to recommend solutions to the interlocking crises. The group has produced two previous reports, on food and finance, and on Wednesday it released its third report, focused on energy.

The report laid out three proposals: tax the profits of energy companies and distribute the proceeds to vulnerable populations; manage energy demand by conserving energy and promoting public transportation; and accelerate the global transition to renewable energy.

“I urge people everywhere to send a clear 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,” Guterres said.

Prices for food, crude oil and shipping have improved somewhat since early June, when the UN last issued a report on the economic fallout from the war, but natural gas prices have risen, said Rebeca Grynspan, the UN’s chief for trade and development.

But she warned that as winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, demand for energy will grow and the pressure on consumers and national governments will increase. The report, she said, presented workable options for countries and showed that the time to act on them, for long-term and short-term relief, was now.

-New York Times

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