‘Vampiric overconsumption’ and ‘monster profits’: UN chief on the top climate concerns of 2023

António Guterres, pictured at a previous event, gave his 2023 Priorities speech to the General Assembly in New York on 6 February.
António Guterres, pictured at a previous event, gave his 2023 Priorities speech to the General Assembly in New York on 6 February. Copyright REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
Copyright REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
By Lottie Limb
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Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for an end to the “bottomless greed of the fossil fuel industry" this year.


Fossil fuel producers without a genuine plan to reach net-zero “should not be in business”, according to UN chief António Guterres.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York today, the Secretary-General set out the world’s top priorities for 2023.

From a climate perspective, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by how much work remains to do. Days after oil and gas giant Shell posted a record profit of €36 billion, Guterres took aim at fossil fuel producers which are raking in “monstrous profits”.

He also lambasted “the vampiric overconsumption [that] is draining the lifeblood of our planet - water.”

No more baby steps.
No more excuses.
No more greenwashing.
UN Secretary-General
António Guterres

But every environmental and human injustice has its correlating call to action. 

And the UN chief made it clear where we should be devoting our energies in 2023, which he described as “a year of reckoning”.

Decarbonisation: What are the four main polluting sectors?

Cutting emissions and achieving climate justice were the two overarching priorities that Guterres identified this year.

Given that the planet is “still moving towards a deadly 2.8 degrees” - well beyond the safe limit of 1.5C agreed in Paris in 2015 - he emphasised the need to halve global emissions this decade.

As well as rapid transition to renewables, the Secretary-General singled out four of the highest emitting industrial sectors as ripe for decarbonisation: steel, cement, shipping and aviation.

Combined, the heavy industry and heavy-duty transport sectors account for around 20 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

The UN chief had a “special message” for fossil fuel producers and their enablers: “If you cannot set a credible course for net-zero, with 2025 and 2030 targets covering all your operations, you should not be in business.

“Your core product is our core problem.”

Partnerships and pacts: What are JETPs?

To support developing countries on their decarbonisation journeys, Guterres urged the G7 to deliver on ‘just energy transitions partnerships’ (JETP) first promised at COP26 in 2021.

Under this model, richer economies like the US, UK, France and Germany are supporting South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam to decarbonise their energy sectors more quickly. To make these shifts just, part of the funding is allocated for those in polluting industries like coal workers who need new jobs.

Guterres reiterated his call for a Climate Solidarity Pact, in which all big emitters make an extra effort to cut down. It would also involve wealthier countries mobilising financial and technical resources to support emerging economies in a common effort to keep the 1.5C Paris Agreement pledge alive.

Actual emission cuts are needed, the UN head added, not “fake carbon credits”.

Crucial climate finance in 2023

Raul De Lima/REUTERS
Protesters displayed a ‘climate clock’ at the COP27 summit in November 2022, following Guterres reminder to negotiators that the “climate clock is ticking”.Raul De Lima/REUTERS

The main forms of climate finance Guterres highlighted are long overdue.

Richer countries still need to “make good” on the $100 billion (€90 billion) they pledged to send to developing countries by 2020. This covers mitigation and adaptation with the latter falling particularly short. In 2020 it reached only 34 per cent of the $83 billion total.


And the gap is widening. According to a recent UN report, estimated annual adaptation needs will be up to $340 billion (€316 bn) by 2030. So Guterres is calling for adaptation funding to be doubled.

He also wants to see progress on the plans for early warning systems to protect every person on Earth within five years.

And the UN boss doubled down on the need for the loss and damage fund - the historic agreement from COP27 in Egypt last year - to be finalised.

In Sharm El-Sheikh, governments agreed to establish a ‘transitional committee’ to look at how the funding will work. Its first meeting is set to take place before the end of March, ahead of COP28.

Looking ahead to COP28

The next biggest event on the climate calendar comes at the end of the year, from 30 November until 12 December in Dubai.


COP28 will set the stage for the first-ever Global Stocktake, said Guterres, “a collective moment of truth to assess where we are, and where we need to go in the next five years to reach the Paris goals.”

We must also bring the Global Biodiversity Framework - agreed at the biodiversity COP15 last December - to life, he said.

Meanwhile the UN Water Summit in March must result in a bold agenda that “gives our world’s lifeblood the commitment it deserves.”

“Climate action is the 21st century’s greatest opportunity to drive forward all the [UN’s] Sustainable Development Goals,” concluded Guterres on the climate front.

“A clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a right we must make real for all.”

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