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UN Chief Calls Out Big Oil on Climate

FILE - The oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer is towed toward a dock in Elliott Bay in Seattle, May 14, 2015. The rig was the first of two drilling rigs Royal Dutch Shell was outfitting for Arctic oil exploration. President Barack Obama has designated the bul

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres accused oil firms on Wednesday of peddling a "big lie" about their role in global warming and warned they should be held accountable.

"Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie," Guterres told the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alpine village of Davos, a week after a study said ExxonMobil denied the findings of its own scientists on the role of fossil fuels in climate change.

"We learned last week that certain fossil fuel producers were fully aware in the 1970s that their core product was baking our planet," Guterres said.

"Just like the tobacco industry, they rode rough-shod over their own science," Guterres said. "And like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held to account."

In 1998, US states won a landmark settlement against tobacco companies worth $246 billion aimed at recovering the costs of treating smokers from the harmful effects of cigarettes.

The study on ExxonMobil published in the journal Science last week found that the firm's scientists had modelled and predicted global warming "with shocking accuracy", only for the company "to spend the next couple of decades denying that very climate science".

ExxonMobil is the target of a number of lawsuits in the United States.

Asked about the Science report, an ExxonMobil spokesman said last week that the issue had come up several times in recent years and in each case the company's answer was that "those who talk about how 'Exxon Knew' are wrong in their conclusions."

Meanwhile, one of the world's top "petro-states," Saudi Arabia, despite its goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2060, the country remains hugely dependent on crude oil exports that have powered its growth for decades, raising doubts about its potential for an economic makeover any time soon.

"We want to lessen our dependence on oil... We want to diversify our economy, it is important, it is essential," Al-Ibrahim told AFP at the World Economic Forum.

Riyadh has dispatched eight top-ranking officials to the gathering of business elite as it seeks more foreign investment and partners outside the all-important oil sector.