The Case for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty by Tasneem Essop and Lili Fuhr


Finding viable solutions to manage the decline of the fossil fuel industry is now more critical than ever. A Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty offers a vision and a path for what real leadership and international climate cooperation could look like.

CAPE TOWN / BERLIN – The Nordic summer of 2021 brought a series of record-breaking natural disasters. The list – which includes intense flooding in China and Western Europe, heat waves and drought in North America, extreme drought in Africa, and wildfires in the subarctic and southern Europe – is long. , growing and global.

It’s the start of climate chaos, and it sends a clear message: We can no longer rely on historical models to inform predictions of future natural disasters. Notably, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) more clearly attributes extreme weather events to human influence on the climate, noting that fossil fuels have caused 86% of emissions. of carbon dioxide over the past decade.

For decades, a small number of extremely wealthy and powerful private and public companies have profited greatly from the sale of these fuels while deceiving the public and pushing governments to prevent political action to tackle climate change. Big Oil’s strategies to preserve its business model as long as possible are well documented. Facebook ads promoting their “climate friendliness” and “green gas” were viewed 431 million times in 2020 alone.

Such corporate deception is particularly problematic for the countries of the South, which strive to improve their economic security and risk being locked up in dirty infrastructure which will become blocked. In fact, every region has a high potential for renewable energies. International collaboration and support, especially funding from Global North, is essential to achieve this.

The lack of an international mechanism dealing directly with fossil fuels means that the industry has continued to develop significantly, even since the signing of the Paris climate agreement in 2015. According to the United Nations report on The production gap, the production of fossil fuels forecast in 2030 is currently 120% higher than what would be allowed with a carbon budget of 1.5 ° Celsius.

The implementation of these plans would threaten to trigger uncontrollable climate change. But their supporters seem to be getting away with it, making it clear that political leaders have turned a blind eye to this most obvious driver of climate chaos. Even so-called climate champions like Canada, UK, US and Norway are endorsing new fossil fuel projects while sounding the climate alarm bells in accord with the IPCC.

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While focusing on reducing emissions might have been a sensible approach in the early 1990s, it is clearly not enough today. We also need a complementary mechanism explicitly oriented towards limiting the supply of fossil fuels.

Emerging initiatives such as the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance can serve as forums that set a new standard of climate leadership and create political space to advance discussions between early players and vulnerable countries. But as the political momentum grows, a path for the establishment of an international legal instrument must be crafted. One tool that is gaining global support and that would help us get on the path to a sustainable climate is a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Such a treaty would emulate existing international agreements that aim to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, landmines, ozone depletion and other security risks. And it would be based on the three pillars of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On the first pillar of a future treaty – non-proliferation – the world has made significant progress in recent months. The International Energy Agency has said any further development of fossil fuels will conflict with the goals of the Paris Agreement, G7 members have agreed to stop funding new coal projects, and many jurisdictions have bans all new fossil fuel permits.

The second pillar is a possible phase-out. Most climatologists agree that we need to reduce the stockpiles and production of existing fossil fuels. Even without any new coal, oil or gas projects, the world would produce 35% more oil and 69% more coal by 2030 than is consistent with a 1.5 ° C trajectory.

Third, a new treaty should help enable a just transition away from fossil fuels through a process of international cooperation focused on equity. Rich fossil fuel-producing economies would lead the way and share the benefits and burdens of the transition with poorer countries, workers and affected communities. This should include the provision of financial resources to enable policy makers to implement and maintain the necessary climate policies.

Hundreds of organizations representing thousands of individuals have joined the call for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. Earlier this year, the Dalai Lama and 100 other Nobel Laureates called for an end to the expansion of fossil fuels, while more than 2,000 academics and scientists showed their support in an open letter.

We will have to live in a world where extreme weather events become more and more intense and frequent. But the first rule of thumb to get out of a hole is to stop digging. And that requires not succumbing to the power and influence of the fossil fuel lobby and its political allies.

Finding viable solutions to manage the decline of the fossil fuel industry is now more critical than ever. A Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty offers a vision and a path for what real leadership and international climate cooperation could look like.


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