Godfathers of Climate Chaos

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    Is United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres a NordSIP subscriber?  Has he actually been reading all these Laundromat rants against greenwashing and climate denial?  We would like to think so, given how he sat the world down last week and gave us all a proper rollicking like the naughty toddlers that we are.

    Speaking at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on 5 June 2024, Guterres reiterates all the key elements of the climate crisis and the urgent action that needs to be taken to address its causes and effects.  Interestingly, he makes a clear point of dedicating a significant portion of his address to lambasting some of the less obvious accomplices in global climate crime that we highlighted in a past Laundromat.  Guterres says: “Many in the fossil fuel industry have shamelessly greenwashed, even as they have sought to delay climate action – with lobbying, legal threats, and massive ad campaigns.  They have been aided and abetted by advertising and PR companies – Mad Men – remember the TV series – fuelling the madness.”  These companies should stop taking on new fossil fuel clients and drop their existing ones as soon as possible, he urges.

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    In the hope that flattery will get you anywhere, Guterres seeks to appeal to the advertising and PR executives’ large egos as a way of enticing them away from their large fossil fuel paychecks: “Your sector is full of creative minds who are already mobilising around this cause.  They are gravitating towards companies that are fighting for our planet – not trashing it.”  Some of these marketing industry good guys have featured here in the Laundromat, such as Clean Creatives, DeSmog, and initiatives like Ad Net Zero.  Alongside the complimentary carrots, Guterres thinks governments should also use the proverbial stick by simply banning fossil fuel company advertising like many have done for tobacco.

    Overall, Guterres’ speech is a handy climate crisis cheat sheet, featuring well summarised and hard-hitting facts and stats that really hit home and reinforce the need for urgency that is so sorely lacking in many quarters.  He begins by pointing out that the past month was the hottest May in recorded history, and just the latest in a series of temperature record-breaking periods.  Guterres says that the 1.5-degree limit – he is keen to emphasise that it is not a target – is hanging by a thread.  New data released on the day of the speech estimates the remaining 1.5-degree carbon budget at 200 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e).  We are apparently burning our collective way through 40 billion tonnes of CO2e every year.  “We can all do the math,” says Guterres, pointedly reminding the world of the need to reduce these emissions by at least 9% each year to have any hope of reaching 2030 targets.  “Last year they rose by one per cent,” says Guterres resignedly.

    Despite his understandable anger and frustration, Guterres is still pinning his hopes on various global gatherings that will take place over the coming 18 months.  These include the UN’s own Climate Change Conference currently underway in Bonn, Germany, as well as the forthcoming G7 and G20 summits.  In another stat for the climate cheat sheet Guterres points out that the richest one per cent in the world emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as two thirds of the remaining global population.  He wants the wealthy G7 and G20 to finally get their fat wallets out and start funding climate action, especially when it comes to financing the deployment of renewables in the global south.  According to Guterres, developing nations ex-China are at a standstill while still faced with what he calls extortionate lending rates.  He also calls for maximum ambition at November’s COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

    The COP process has gradually turned the Laundromat from a wide-eyed ESG optimist into a bitter cynic, frustrated and exhausted at the lack of progress, loophole-friendly statements, and surreptitious takeover of the climate negotiations by fossil fuel lobbyists.  Here we go again in a host country that derives more than 90% of its export revenues from fossil fuels and has an appalling track record on human rights.  It seems that the Baku government’s preparations for this most crucial of climate conferences has mainly focused on rounding up journalists and activists and throwing them in jail on bogus charges.  Guterres is a good sport and did his very best to smile when posing for photos with COP29 President-designate Mukhtar Babayev, but his description of the fossil fuel industry as the Godfathers of Climate Chaos reveals more of his true beliefs.  “It is we the Peoples versus the polluters and the profiteers. Together, we can win,” concludes Guterres in his speech.  This chronically cynical columnist would dearly love to believe he is right.

    Image courtesy of Sander Sammy on Unsplash
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