Cast your mind back to Paris in 2015. One of the most important climate agreements in history is being signed at COP21 by 196 countries in an endeavor to keep global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees.
Pretty important document then, right? You’d imagine that one of the big things in this agreement would be how to stop climate change at the root, namely, by ending fossil fuels. But guess how many times the words “fossil fuels” are used in the Paris Agreement.
In fact, even at the most recent UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, the final briefing document didn’t mention oil and gas.
Even the fossils themselves, buried 200 to 300 feet below the Earth’s surface, trapped in deposits surrounded by layers of rock for the past 286 to 360 million years, know that digging them out and burning them is bad for the planet. They wouldn't be so hard to reach if they were intended to be used and exploited by mankind.
So why is it that Exxon is being allowed to invest billions in a new offshore project off the coast of Guyana; that UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has just authorized more than 100 new North Sea licenses; and that Canada’s government has given the green light to the controversial $12 billion Bay du Nord offshore oil project? The mind boggles.
What’s more, investing in clean energy instead of fossil fuels would not only reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and result in 30 times the number of jobs created by a comparable investment in fossil fuels, it’s also already way cheaper.
Enter the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty: an international treaty that would manage a just transition away from fossil fuels, spearheaded by a bloc of Pacific nations. Here’s what you need to know.
Why do we need a treaty?
Projected carbon dioxide emissions from all the fossil fuel-producing infrastructure that currently exists (including under-construction oil and gas fields and coal mines) would warm the world beyond the 1.5 degree Celsius, a global climate target that aims to limit warming to said level by 2100, in order to prevent the planet from slipping into further climate crises.
That’s right, we’ve already got enough fossil fuels to blast through the limit deemed safe for humanity.
Yet, governments are planning fossil fuel production that will result in more than double the safe level of emissions by 2030.
What is a treaty?
Great question. A treaty is a formal, legally binding written agreement between actors in international law, usually between different countries.
Give me some examples.
You’ve probably already heard of the Paris Agreement which is an international treaty on climate change.
Then you’ve got the Geneva Conventions, a set of four treaties that establish international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in war.
Another example is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons that was signed during the Cold War after the Soviet Union and the US were in danger of going MAD (that’s Mutually Assured Destruction).
Although the treaty did not ultimately prevent nuclear proliferation, in the context of a world that was about to potentially be blown to smithereens by two global superpowers, it was a major success because it set a precedent for international cooperation between nuclear and non-nuclear states to prevent proliferation.
There are, in fact, over 250,000 international treaties that aim to foster global cooperation.
Do they actually work?
International treaties have mostly failed to produce their intended effects, according to a landmark study produced by the York University-affiliated Global Strategy Lab.
They are, however, effective when they include enforcement mechanisms (read: consequences for when countries don’t do what they say they’re going to do) such as prescribing financial sanctions on countries, or expelling countries from treaty bodies.
What is the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty?
The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is not an organization, it’s an idea that proposes three pillars:
This means an end to the expansion of coal, oil, and gas production.
2. A Fair Phase-Out
In other words, the treaty calls for an equitable plan for the wind down of existing fossil fuel production, where nations with the capacity and historical responsibility for emissions transition fastest, providing support to others around the world.
3. A Just Transition
The treaty calls for a just transition, which means fast-tracking the adoption of clean energy and economic diversification away from fossil fuels so that no worker, community, or country is left behind.
Who’s got behind it?
The treaty has been endorsed by six nation states (Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Tonga), 2,150 civil society organizations (including Global Citizen), and 623,178 individuals.
How can I help?
There are loads of ways you can help, from signing petitions to joining protests. Here’s where to start: