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The UN secretary general has told new university graduates not to take up careers with the “climate wreckers” – companies that drive the extraction of fossil fuels.
António Guterres addressed thousands of graduates at Seton Hall University in New York state on Tuesday. “You must be the generation that succeeds in addressing the planetary emergency of climate change,” he said. “Despite mountains of evidence of looming climate catastrophe, we still see mountains of funding for coal and fossil fuels that are killing our planet.
“But we know investing in fossil fuels is a dead end – no amount of greenwashing or spin can change that. So we must put them on notice: accountability is coming for those who liquidate our future.”
He added: “You hold the cards. Your talent is in demand from multinational companies and big financial institutions. You will have plenty of opportunities to choose from. My message to you is simple: don’t work for climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future.”
Guterres has become increasingly outspoken on the climate crisis in recent months, telling world leaders in April: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is killing us.”
He has also recently attacked companies and governments whose climate actions do not match their words: “Simply put, they are lying and the results will be catastrophic. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”
The Guardian recently revealed that the 12 largest oil and gas companies were planning to spend $103m a day to 2030 on projects that cannot go ahead if global temperature rise is to be kept well below 2C, as agreed by the world’s governments.
On Monday, a senior safety consultant quit working with Shell after 11 years, accusing the company in a public video of causing “extreme harms” to the environment. Caroline Dennett claimed Shell had a “disregard for climate change risks” and urged others in the oil and gas industry to “walk away while there’s still time”.
Dennett said she was inspired by an Extinction Rebellion protest: “When I saw news footage of Extinction Rebellion inviting anyone at Shell to jump ship and offering support through its TruthTeller project, it motivated me to take action. I hope many more can find a way to do the same.”
The TruthTeller campaign encourages employees to walk away from companies fuelling the climate crisis and to anonymously disclose what they know. The TruthTeller coordinator, Zoë Blackler, said: “Employees face a stark choice: either stay where they are and watch Shell go toxic on their CVs, or exit an industry rapidly losing its social licence.”
University students in the UK are increasingly joining a fossil-free careers campaign to ban fossil fuel and mining companies from recruitment events and career services. Students at the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, Sheffield and Sussex all backed the campaign in March and April.