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On the need for a global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty
Nov 18, 2022

On the need for a global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

By Steve Trent


“On the highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”

At the time of writing, carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere have peaked at 422 parts per million, well above the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm which sustained more than 6000 years of human history. This has led to global heating of more than 1.1℃ above the pre-industrial baseline,which is already causing devastating climate disasters across the world – from the floods in Pakistan to famine in the Horn of Africa to the megadrought in the American Southwest. Yet despite the alarm bells ringing, the current policies in place will lead to a 2.8℃ increase in global temperatures by 2100; if all existing emissions reductions pledges are actually implemented, the world would still be on track for disastrous global heating of around 2.5℃.

There can be no debate: fossil fuels are the primary driver of global heating.

The science is settled: global heating is unequivocally caused in large part by the greenhouse emissions generated by the exploitation and burning of fossil fuels. Just 100 companies - the ‘carbon majors’ - are responsible for 71% of planet killing emissions. Half of all global fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions since 1751 have been emitted since 1991, one year before the UN Framework Convention on Combating Climate Change was signed. These climate criminal corporations continue to enrich themselves off the destruction of our planet – to the tune of US$1 trillion a year every year for the past 50 years, or nearly US$3 billion a day on average. Shell, one of the carbon majors, has amassed record-breaking profits of almost US$30 billion in the first three quarters of 2022 alone. These enormous profits are underwritten by taxpayers, who continue to subsidise fossil fuel companies to the tune of nearly US$5 trillion per year in 2020 – or US$11 million a minute – even as consumers face soaring energy prices around the world. Yet international climate negotiations continue to invite big polluters to the table: Coca Cola, one of the world’s largest plastic polluter, is the sponsor of COP27, while at COP26, fossil fuel lobbyists formed the largest single delegation at the conference.

The solution is simple…

In order to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown, the only way forward is a complete transition away from fossil fuels, reaching real zero emissions by 2035 especially in the world’s wealthiest economies. The International Energy Agency is clear: there can be no new fossil fuel investments or developments if we are to meet even the more conservative emissions reductions target of net zero by 2050.

All international climate negotiations must advance concrete actions to decarbonise all sectors of the global economy as rapidly as possible in order to secure a liveable future for all. A new international Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty must be a priority in order to end new fossil fuel expansion and accelerate the complete phase out of all fossil fuels including coal, oil and gas, and a just transition to renewable energy. EJF welcomes Tuvalu’s endorsement of the treaty initiative, which has also been supported by the European Parliament, the government of Vanuatu, 70 cities and subnational governments across the world, and more than 300,000 individuals across the globe.

…And the justification is clear

Every fraction of a degree matters. We already live in a climate apartheid, one of astonishing injustice where those who have contributed the least to our heating planet, its poorest and most vulnerable inhabitants, are being affected first and worst, while the world’s wealthy are still able to avoid the most severe consequences of our addiction to carbon. For every tenth of a degree our planet heats, more people suffer, more species will be threatened with extinction, and more tipping points will be reached, pushing us into a vicious spiral of increasing climate impacts and risking the very liveability of our planet’s future.

The economic rationale to act now is also compelling. All too often action to secure and protect our natural environment is classified as a cost - but in reality, action to combat global heating will be the greatest cost saving of all time. The longer we wait, the higher the cost to our economies. One study suggests that under our current emissions trajectory, we are on track to lose 11 to 14% of global GDP - worth as much as US$23 trillion - by 2050 compared with growth levels without climate change. The transition to net-zero carbon will require vast sums of money but spending now will protect us from the long term future costs of climate breakdown. These ‘costs’ today are an investment in our collective future well-being. There will be a direct correlation between the ambition and action delivered today and how many people and species will be eradicated; how much social disruption, hunger, and poverty is caused; how large the mass migrations of climate refugees will be; and how much violence and conflict are experienced.

Call to Action

EJF calls on national governments to take urgent action to stem the destruction wrought by fossil fuels and to:

  1. Endorse a Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty at COP27

  2. Immediately phase out all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels

  3. Massively increase investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, both at home and internationally through scaled up climate finance

  4. Kick polluters out of COP and promote more accessible and inclusive international climate policy with a seat at the negotiating table for frontline communities and Indigenous Peoples.