The United Nations chief sharply criticized the “grotesque greed” of oil and gas companies on Wednesday for making record profits from the energy crisis on the back of the world's poorest people, “while destroying our only home.” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was “immoral” that the largest energy companies in the first quarter of the year made combined profits of close to $100 billion.

He urged all governments to tax these excessive profits “and use the funds to support the most vulnerable people through these difficult times.” Guterres urged people everywhere to send a message to the fossil fuel industry and their financiers that “this grotesque greed is punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people, while destroying our only home.”

Global Crisis Response Group’s report

The secretary-general spoke at the news conference launching a report by the Global Crisis Response Group he set up to tackle the triple interconnected crises of food, energy and finance which have especially hit countries trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and deal with the devastating impact of the war in Ukraine.

The group has already presented recommendations on food and finance and Guterres said he believes “we are making some progress” in those areas, especially on food.

The report released Wednesday focuses on the energy crisis, and the secretary-general said it aims to achieve the equivalent of the grain deal he first proposed to the Russian and Ukrainian presidents to enable Ukrainian grain to be shipped from Russian-blockaded ports on the Black Sea to world markets in desperate need of food supplies. The first ship to leave Ukraine was headed to Lebanon Wednesday after a three-hour inspection in Turkish waters.

In another key recommendation, the group urges richer developed countries, especially, to conserve energy and promote public transport “and nature-based solutions.” Guterres said new technologies including storage for batteries “should become public goods,” and governments must scale up and diversify supply chains for raw materials and renewable energy technologies.

Push money into ‘green energy transition’

The group also recommends scaling up private and multilateral finance for “the green energy transition.” And it backed the International Energy Agency's goal of increasing investments in renewable energy by a factor of seven to meet the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050 to help curb man-made climate change.

“Every country is part of this energy crisis, and all countries are paying attention to what others are doing,” Guterres said. “There is no place for hypocrisy.” He said many developing countries living with severe impacts of the climate crisis including storms, wildfires, floods and drought don't lack a reason to invest in renewable energy but they need “concrete, workable options” — and he said developed countries urging them to invest in renewables aren't providing enough social, technical or financial support.

Guterres criticized some of the same developed countries for introducing universal subsidies at gasoline pumps and reopening coal plants, saying it's difficult to justify these actions even on a temporary basis. He said any subsidies and reopening of coal plants “must be strictly time-bound and targeted” to ease the energy burden on the poor and promote the transition to renewables.