Former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres is calling out the fossil fuel industry for not decisively acting to bring about an energy transition, despite reaping record profits from high energy prices.
“The oil and gas industry stands at the most crucial crossroads of its history” and “arguably has more financial muscle and agency to act than many governments,” wrote Figueres, co-founder of Global Optimism, in a post based on a keynote speech she delivered to the industry itself earlier this fall.
“There is no industry that has as much capacity for harm or as much potential for good at this moment,” she added. “The choice is now theirs, and humanity is watching.”
Governments that have been responding to an energy crisis by encouraging fossil fuel production, despite past commitments to reduce emissions, are following “the age-old pattern of shifting capital around and maintaining another type of ambiguous and toxic status quo rather than leveraging the windfall cash to accelerate investments into renewables and their related infrastructure,” Figueres said.
But when pressure eases on the scramble to replace Russian gas, “a few stark realities will raise their ugly heads.”
Among these realities will be proof that the high energy prices that yielded profits for fossils are also perpetuating and worsening poverty to create “unfathomable misery” for vulnerable populations. It will also become evident that the turn away from climate science has contributed to a continuing rise in emissions that will put millions of people at existential risk—not only in the near term, but over the medium and long term, as well.
Climate science will also show that the natural disasters of the past summer—including flooding in Pakistan, and record-breaking heat waves on three continents—are attributable to climate change, Figueres wrote.
“There is no doubt that we are in the climate emergency scientists have been warning us about for years,” she added. “And there is no doubt that this industry has an outsized responsibility to not only stop stoking the emergency, but to leverage its current profitability to actively contribute to the solution now more than ever.”
Figueres said the energy transition will be unstoppable, even though she doesn’t see the industry acting on its responsibility. But the shift will depend on four urgent actions. Lobbyists need to stop promoting fossil fuel interests. Windfall profits must be directed to accelerating the energy transition. There is a pressing need to support Africa’s well-being, as the continent becomes an “ideological battleground” for the energy transition. And oil and gas companies need more robust and reliable transition plans.