Stop subsidising fossil fuels and start spending on people, says UN chief

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Governments should stop subsidising fossil fuels and give the money to people instead, the UN secretary-general has said.

Antonio Guterres said subsidies to fossils fuel producers “distort the market and penalise renewable energy”.

“I think the logic that must prevail in the world is that we stop subsidising things and we start subsidising people,” the 72-year-old said, speaking in a panel discussion at Cambridge’s Pembroke College.

Antonio Guterres at Pembroke College
Antonio Guterres (centre) with former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (left) (Joe Giddens/PA)

“Instead of spending an amount of money on subsidising fossil fuels or other products, you should have, for instance, a minimum income guaranteed for families.

“Or you should have reduction in your income tax for salaries, for instance.”

Giving an example, he said fishing communities could be made to buy more expensive diesel but each boat that fishes could be given a subsidy.

“What will happen is probably the owner of the boat will decide, ‘let me have a better engine that will spend less fuel and I get the money and I spend less than what I was spending’, so you will win,” Mr Guterres said.

“Governments need to be smart in the way they reduce subsidies to fossil fuels or in the way they tax carbon, that increases the cost of fossil fuels but compensates society.”

Mr Guterres travelled from the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow to Cambridge University on Wednesday to collect an honorary degree in person.

The Pembroke College event on Thursday, held with an audience of students, was titled “a discussion on the ethics of climate change”.

Mr Guterres said that after Cop26 “it’s necessary first not to give up on anything, and secondly to intensify all efforts in all areas”.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who was also part of the panel discussion, said: “I doubt very much whether Cop is going to deliver a greater change of heart.

“But what it can deliver is both the fulfilment of financial promises made about resources for less developed countries and a tightening of the timetable on the delivery of such funds.”

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