UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for oil and gas companies to face special taxes. His remarks come as the industry’s profits rise to new heights due to rising energy prices due to the war in Ukraine.
Mr Guterres said it was “immoral” for firms to profit from the crisis.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has exacerbated global oil and gas shortages, disrupting access to oil and gas from Russia – a major supplier and driving prices higher.
While families are grappling with high energy bills, companies are taking advantage of it. BP posted its most significant profit in 14 years, while Shell’s earnings hit a record in April-June.
The four largest energy firms, Exxon, Chevron, Shell and TotalEnergies, generated nearly $51 billion in the most recent quarter, almost double their earnings in the same period last year.
“This grotesque greed is punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people while destroying our only common home,” Mr Guterres said.
“I urge all governments to tax these excessive profits and use the funds to support the most vulnerable people through these difficult times.”
Last month, the UK approved a 25% windfall tax on energy firms, a one-off levy the government says will raise some £25bn to help offset household energy bills, which have spiked.
Some other countries, such as Italy, have imposed similar measures.
But French lawmakers recently rejected such a move, and there is little political momentum in the US, despite a windfall tax proposal from some members of Congress.
Frank Macchiarola, a senior vice president for oil and gas lobby group the American Petroleum Institute, said calls for a windfall tax were misguided.
“Policymakers should be focused on increasing energy supply and reducing costs for Americans. He said that imposing new taxes on our industry will do the exact opposite and only discourage investment when it’s needed most” he said.
Mr Guterres warned that high energy prices would have wide-ranging consequences as households and governments buckle under pressure.
“Many developing countries – drowning in debt, without access to finance, and struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic – could go over the brink,” he said. “We are already seeing the warning signs of a wave of economic, social and political upheaval that would leave no country untouched.”