Private-Sector Coal Financiers ‘Must Be Held to Account,’ UN Secretary-General Says

Private-Sector Coal Financiers ‘Must Be Held to Account,’ UN Secretary-General Says
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the welcome ceremony for the Belt and Road Forum, at the International Conference Center in Yanqi Lake, north of Beijing, China, on May 15, 2017. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara-Pool/Getty Images)
Nathan Worcester

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has asserted that “those in the private sector still financing coal must be held to account,” claiming that “it’s a stupid investment.”

The price of coal recently surged past $420 per metric ton to reach its highest level in 200 years, according to Rystad Energy, although that price has since fallen to $334.50 per metric ton, according to Trading Economics.

Guterres, a Socialist Party politician from Portugal who previously served as president of Socialist International, made the claims in a March 21 speech during The Economist’s Sustainability Week. The Economist is published by The Economist Group, a privately owned entity that is largely the property of a small group of wealthy European families, including the Agnellis, the Rothschilds, the Cadburys, and the Schroders.

Guterres told the gathering that “a high dependence on coal” has limited the ability of large emerging economies in the G-20 to cut their carbon emissions.

He included both China and India among those countries. Measured in nominal GDP, China’s economy is the second-largest in the world as of 2022, second only to the United States.

Guterres said developed countries, private banks, and multilateral development banks must help finance a transition from coal by emerging economies, highlighting the United States’ agreement with China at the November 2021 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, to collaborate on climate-related issues.

“The good news is that all G-20 governments—including China, Japan, and Korea—have agreed to stop funding coal abroad,” Guterres said. “They must now urgently do the same at home—progressively dismantling their own coal infrastructure, with full phase-out by 2030 for OECD countries, and 2040 for all others.”

He said private-sector actors financing coal “could cost the world its climate goals.”

Coal-fired power generation is believed to have reached an all-time high in 2021 at 10,350 terawatt-hours, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“However, coal’s share of the global power mix in 2021 is expected to be 36 percent—5 percentage points below its 2007 peak,” the IEA report states.

Coal is also integral to the creation of new steel.

Roughly 71 percent of the world’s steel is produced using blast furnaces, which transform iron ore into that key building material with the help of coal. The remaining 29 percent of steel comes from electric-arc furnaces, which melt down steel scrap.

Guterres stated that “in 2020, climate disasters forced 30 million people to flee their homes—three times more than those displaced by war and violence.”

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that there were 30 million displacements related to climate in 2020. Yet that figure is actually lower than a peak in 2010, when the IDMC reported that 38.3 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters.
Weather-related death rates are roughly 80 times lower than they were a century ago, as described by physicist Steve Koonin in his 2021 book “Unsettled.” The total number of such deaths has dramatically declined since 1920, as reported by the Foundation for Economic Education.

Guterres also commented on the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

“The fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine risks upending global food and energy markets—with major implications for the global climate agenda,” he said.

Food prices shot to an all-time high in February 2022, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index. Fertilizer prices, which were already on the rise, are also being affected by the conflict because of Russia’s central role in much of global fertilizer production.
Oil and natural gas prices also have skyrocketed, continuing or resuming upward trends seen in late 2021.

In Europe, where many countries depend on Russian energy, the conflict has reignited debates over whether countries committed to renewable energy should consider mining, drilling, or fracking their own energy resources, as well as whether they should retain or expand the use of nuclear power.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, long a champion of net zero policies, recently asserted that the United Kingdom should “take back control of our energy supplies,” in remarks that prompted speculation as to whether the UK would lift its moratorium on fracking.

“We will make better use of our own naturally occurring hydrocarbons rather than import them top dollar from abroad and put the money into Putin’s bank account,” Johnson said on March 18 during his Conservative Party Spring Conference Speech.

“That does not mean in any way that we are going to abandon our drive for a low carbon future, we are going to make some big bets on nuclear power, not just the big projects but small modular reactors.”

Guterres, during his Economist Sustainability Week speech, said: “As major economies pursue an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to replace Russian fossil fuels, short-term measures might create long-term fossil fuel dependence and close the window to 1.5 degrees.

“Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use. This is madness.

“Instead of hitting the brakes on the decarbonization of the global economy, now is the time to put the pedal to the metal toward a renewable energy future.”

Nathan Worcester covers national politics for The Epoch Times and has also focused on energy and the environment. Nathan has written about everything from fusion energy and ESG to Biden's classified documents and international conservative politics. He lives and works in Chicago. Nathan can be reached at [email protected].
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