Campaign for a Fossil Fuels Non-proliferation Treaty Gathers Steam

Petrol pump in Rome. Credit: Paul Virgo/IPS
Petrol pump in Rome. Credit: Paul Virgo/IPS
  • by Paul Virgo (rome)
  • Inter Press Service

“The planet already is 1.2°C hotter (with respect to pre-industrial levels), yet new fossil fuel projects every day accelerate our race towards the precipice,” the Czech-Canadian prelate said.

“Enough is enough. All new exploration and production of coal, oil, and gas must immediately end, and existing production of fossil fuels must be urgently phased out.

“This must be a just transition for impacted workers into environmentally sound alternatives. The proposed Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty holds great promise to complement and enhance the Paris Agreement”.

The name of the proposed treaty has a familiar ring as it is inspired by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) that came into force in 1970 and successfully helped reduce the threat of nuclear war.

The supporters of the proposed treaty say that, like atomic bombs, fossil fuels pose an existential threat to humankind as they are the main cause of the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving the climate crisis.

“Fossil fuels have been equated as weapons of mass destruction because of the way they threaten our ability to protect livelihoods, security, and the planet,” Rebecca Byrnes, the Deputy Director of the Fossil Fuel Treaty Initiative, told IPS.

“Fossil fuels are responsible for 86% of carbon emissions in the past decade. So despite our efforts over the last 30 years, emissions have continued to increase, and this hasn’t changed since the Paris Agreement was signed seven years ago”.

Under the Paris Agreement, the international community agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a degree necessary to try to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C, and, failing that, to keep them "well below" 2C above pre-industrial levels.

But Byrnes said that, as things currently stand, governments plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels consistent with limiting global temperature rises to within a 1.5-degree trajectory by 2030, and 10% more than their own climate pledges.

So, she argued that a separate treaty specifically dealing with fossil fuels is needed to stop States from making empty pledges on climate policy.

“We need both domestic action and international cooperation to explicitly stop the expansion of fossil fuel production and therefore emissions,” she said.

“Only addressing half of the equation has allowed countries and companies to claim climate leadership while also supporting new coal, oil and gas extraction projects, directly or indirectly.

“In countries that are particularly dependent on fossil fuel profits for government revenue and economic development, fossil fuel supply is now a driver of demand.

“It will not be possible to reduce demand for, and therefore emissions from, fossil fuels without first breaking this fossil-fuel lock-in through phase-out, economic diversification measures and finding new development opportunities.

“A Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty will complement and implement the Paris Agreement by directly addressing the supply side of the equation and providing support to fossil-fuel-dependent developing countries to make this transition”.

One of the positive aspects of the treaty would be that it would help put an end to the perverse situation in which States are sometimes forced to pay compensation to polluters when they put a halt to fossil-fuel projects because of the protection that corporations enjoy under legal mechanisms such as the Energy Charter Treaty.

“A Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty will mitigate the risk of legal liability faced by country governments in both national courts and international tribunals, by providing legal justification for phase-out policies,” Byrnes said.

Critics have suggested the plan is simply too ambitious to ever come to fruition.

The treaty campaign might have the Vatican on its side, but the fossil-fuel lobby has powerful allies, lots of money and it has not been shy about using its clout to sow doubt about the climate crisis and stop or delay emissions cuts.

“Some of the criticism we get on the idea of the treaty is that it’s unfeasible and that we don’t have time to negotiate something like this,” said Byrnes.

“The same was erroneously said about weapons treaties.

“But we don’t have time for more of the same. We know it’s unlikely that oil-producing countries will enthusiastically embrace a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and the fossil fuel industry has huge influence.

“But so did the tobacco industry at one point before the formation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

“Just creating the concept of a treaty is already sparking new ambition and new conversations”.

Indeed, the treaty campaign is on a roll.

It has the support of over 100 Nobel Laureates, including the Dalai Lama, and dozens of the world’s biggest cities, such as London, Barcelona, Paris, Montreal, Lima, Buenos Aires and Los Angeles.

In September the World Health Organization joined the host of international organizations backing the campaign.

“The modern addiction to fossil fuels is not just an act of environmental vandalism. From the health perspective, it is an act of self-sabotage,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Vanuatu became the first nation-state to call for a fossil fuel treaty in the speech made by President Nikenike Vurobaravu at this year’s United Nations General Assembly.

And on October 20 the European Parliament called on nation-states to “work on developing a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty” in a resolution outlining its demands for COP27.

“The world has seen treaties deliver when the world has needed to manage, restrict and phase out dangerous products, including weapons of mass destruction, ozone depleting substances and tobacco,” concluded Byrnes .

“Today, we see oil and gas are fuelling war in Ukraine and elsewhere, and are a paramount danger that demands of us and world governments to rally behind a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty”.

It is possible to endorse the call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty via the campaign’s website.

Furthermore, the Parents For Future Global network of climate parent groups has launched a letter that people can sign online to express their support.

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service