30+ Media Organizations Call for Windfall Tax on Fossil Fuel Profits
More than 30 media organizations in more than 20 countries have come together with a simple but daring proposal: world leaders should tax big fossil fuel companies to help the most vulnerable nations respond to the climate crisis.
The editorial, spearheaded by The Guardian, was published in conjunction with the COP27 UN climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and has appeared in an international array of outlets including Hindu in India, Tempo in Indonesia, the Mail & Guardian in South Africa, Haaretz in Israel, Rolling Stone in the U.S., El Espectador in Colombia, La Repubblica in Italy and Libération in France.
“My hope is that in speaking with one voice, we remind people that this is a global crisis, threatening all of us,” head of environment at Guardian News and Media Natalie Hanman said in a Guardian article about the initiative. “It’s now imperative that world leaders listen, and act.”
The editorial outlined the stakes of the moment. The most recent UN Environmental Programme Emissions Gap Report found that amped up national pledges following last year’s COP26 climate crisis still put the world on track for 2.4 to 2.6 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. The editorial noted that this meant national pledges were delivering only one fiftieth of what is needed to reduce emissions in time to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. At the same time, many nations are hurrying to start new fossil fuel projects in a short-sighted bid to wean themselves off Russian gas in the aftermath of its invasion of Ukraine.
“All this underlines that humanity has to end its addiction to fossil fuels,” the editorial said. “If renewable energy was the norm there would be no climate emergency.”
The editorial also highlighted the injustice of the climate crisis.
“Rich countries account for just one in eight people in the world today but are responsible for half of greenhouse gases,” the editorial said. “These nations have a clear moral responsibility to help. Developing nations should be given enough cash to address the dangerous conditions they did little to create — especially as a global recession looms.”
Yet so far this money has not materialized. In 2009, developed nations pledged $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing nations both adapt to and mitigate the climate crisis, money that was never paid in full. Now, a new report published in conjunction with COP27 found that developing nations excluding China needed more than $2 trillion a year by 2030 to both reduce emissions, adapt to climate change and repair the inevitable loss and damage from the crisis.
One way to help with this gap between unmet needs and insufficient spending would be to tax the profits of major fossil fuel companies.
“As a bare minimum, a windfall tax on the combined profits of the largest oil and gas companies — estimated at almost $100bn in the first three months of the year — needs to be enacted,” the editorial authors wrote.
In this, they are echoing the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres during his opening remarks to the UN General Assembly in September, who called for a windfall tax on fossil fuel prices to help both poorer nations reeling from the climate crisis and individuals everywhere struggling with the energy and cost of living crises.
“[T]he fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits while household budgets shrink and our planet burns,” Guterres said at the time.
Such a tax has also been endorsed by California Governor Gavin Newsom and U.S. President Joe Biden threatened such an act if oil and gas companies did not work to reduce prices.
The editorial said that a windfall tax should not replace climate finance from richer to poorer nations, but it was something that countries could pass on the national level without the need for an international deal. The authors also argued that the debts of developing countries recovering from extreme weather events should be forgiven.
Finally, the editorial called the climate crisis the “moonshot of our times” and argued for daring financial solutions such as the purchasing of government bonds undertaken by central banks in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is no time for apathy or complacency; the urgency of the moment is upon us,” the editorial authors wrote.
The call to action comes as another report underscored the media’s failings on climate messaging, BusinessGreen noted. A six-nation Yougov poll commissioned by the Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) and the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) found that people who listened to, read or watched the news five times or more per week were more likely to believe common climate falsehoods — such as the idea that natural gas is a “greener” choice — than those who did not.
“This suggests that news outlets’ reporting regularly includes misinformation narratives, which are adversely influencing their readers’ opinions,” CAAD wrote in a press release.
The Guardian, however, has long been a leader in climate coverage. In 2019, for example, it updated its style guide to use the terms climate crisis, breakdown or emergency instead of climate change to accurately convey the urgency of the situation.