UN chief attacks ‘immoral’ oil companies, claims they are punishing the poor

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The head of the United Nations has accused oil and gas companies of “grotesque greed” and urged every government to take a windfall on their “immoral” record profits.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said money earned “on the backs of the poorest” just days after BP and Shell reported huge profits in the wake of the Ukraine crisis should be returned to the most vulnerable households.

The UK, Italy and Spain have all passed windfall taxes on oil and gas companies, despite warnings they will hurt investments critical to energy security. However, Guterres called on all governments to follow suit after oil and gas prices surged due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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He claimed that energy companies and their financiers – typically private investors and pension funds – are “punishing the poorest” and “destroying our one common home”.

He wrote on Twitter: “It is immoral for oil and gas companies to make record profits from the current energy crisis on the backs of the poorest, at a huge cost to the climate.

“I urge all governments to tax these excessive profits and use the funds to support the most vulnerable people.”

The secretary-general, a socialist former prime minister of Portugal, has repeatedly used his office to highlight the global divide between rich and poor. Last year he struck out at ‘billionaires’ [who] joyride in space while millions go hungry”, and in 2020 he claimed that “inequality defines our time”.

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Rising energy prices pushed BP’s second-quarter profit to its 14-year high on Tuesday, while Shell reported record profits last week.

Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, announced a 25 percent windfall on profits from oil and gas companies in May. He expected it to bring in £5 billion in its first year.

Many North Sea oil producers strongly opposed a tax bill ahead of the announcement and warned they would deter investment in new stocks.

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Will Webster, energy policy manager at trading group Offshore Energies UK, commented this week on BP’s results: “The increase in oil and gas company profits is due to a large rise in global prices that UK industry cannot significantly influence .

“However, quarterly and annual results just give you a snapshot of what’s happened in the past few months, so they don’t tell you much about longer-term trends.

“It’s worth remembering that prices have been volatile in recent years, with growers also experiencing periods of low yields and losses.”

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