The UN secretary-general told world leaders on Tuesday that wealthy energy companies must be forced to fork over windfall profits to help victims of climate change and offset rising fuel and food costs.

The fossil fuel industry, which is responsible for a large proportion of the gases that cause global warming, “is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfalls, while household budgets are cut and our planet burns,” António Guterres said in his opening remarks at the of the UN General Assembly in New York.

He called on wealthier countries to tax the profits of energy companies and redirect funds both to “countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis” and to countries struggling with the rising cost of living.

As countries prepare for international climate talks in November, money is an increasingly important issue, but one that threatens to further divide rich and poor countries. Guterres thus presents fossil fuel companies as a common enemy for a world he described as “at risk and paralyzed.”

Oil companies in July reported unprecedented profits in the billions of dollars per month. Exxon Mobil’s three-month profit was $17.85 billion, Chevron’s was $11.62 billion, and Shell’s was $11.5 billion.

“It’s time to tell fossil fuel producers, investors and developers. Polluters must pay,” Guterres said, chastising them for massive PR campaigns.

The idea of ​​a windfall tax has already gained traction in Europe, where energy companies are reaping windfall profits as a result of supply shortages due to the Russian-Ukrainian war. The proposal aims to raise about $140 billion to help people with skyrocketing energy costs.

Due to the concrete and lack of green space, many areas in cities can be much warmer than the official temperature reading you can get at the airport – 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. That could be dangerous, and cities need to adapt, explains LX News climate reporter Chase Cain.

Frank Maisano, an energy lobbyist, called the secretary general’s comments “misguided and counterproductive.” He argued that many fossil fuel companies are “at the forefront of the clean energy revolution and in most cases are driving the innovation necessary for the energy transition.”

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar’s ruling emir, blamed “decades of pressure to end investment in fossil energy ahead of the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives”, saying the world still needed carbon energy and touted his country’s gas field expansion.

But Jonathan Overpeck, dean of environmental health at the University of Michigan, called the effort to hold polluters accountable “a great idea.”

“Many fossil fuel companies have made huge profits by creating the global climate crisis, and it makes sense that some of those profits go to help those most affected by the growing number of climate disasters,” Overpeck said.

But despite being head of the United Nations, Guterres’ only power is moral conviction, according to climate scientist Bill Hare, director of Australia-based Climate Analytics.

“Fiscal policy for major economies is not usually made at the United Nations,” added veteran international climate negotiator Nigel Purvis of Climate Advisers.

Greenhouse gas emissions and the world’s dependence on oil, gas and coal must fall sharply and quickly if the world is to meet its climate goals, scientists warn.

Guterres also called on developed countries to pay for the losses and damages that occur in poor countries, which do little to contribute to climate change but suffer the worst effects. That includes Pakistan, which is still reeling from last month’s devastating floods in the south, caused in part by rising temperatures.

“The losses and damages are happening now, harming people and economies, and they need to be addressed now,” Guterres said, adding that 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the 20 largest economies.

“This is a fundamental issue of climate justice, international solidarity and trust.”

Mohamed Adou, director of climate and energy at the Power Shift Africa think tank, said that “correcting mistakes is what climate action is all about.”

“Using the profits from climate destruction to reverse the loss and damage they have caused would be a great first step,” Adove said in an email.

Guterres, along with several nation states more severely affected by climate change, are hoping that “losses and damages” – as they are known in climate talks – will be prioritized at the upcoming UN climate summit in Egypt in November, known as like COP27.

Guterres, who recently returned from flood monitoring in Pakistan, “felt deeply what the issue of ‘loss and damage’ really means for people in their daily lives,” said Pakistani climate scientist Fahad Saeed.

“If we in Pakistan are responsible for less than 1% of (carbon) emissions, why should we bear the cost of this destruction?” Saeed said in an email. Meanwhile, the United States has been responsible for 21% of global carbon emissions since 1959, according to the Global Carbon Project, a group of scientists that monitor carbon pollution.

Many smaller countries were disappointed at the previous summit last year, when richer countries such as the United States and Europe rejected demands for compensation for losses and damages.

Earlier this year, COP27 president Sameh Shukri hoped that the summit’s discussion of loss and damage would be “comprehensive but not controversial”.

Adove said “the drumbeat for action to address the loss and damage is growing.”

“And the longer we see emissions rising,” he added, “the need for this will only increase.”

Associated Press writers Aya Batravi in ​​the United Nations, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Dana Beltaggi in London contributed to this report.

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