Pacific nations call for global treaty to phase down fossil fuels

Tuesday March 28 2023
Workers at a crude oil extraction plant in Colombia.

Workers at a crude oil extraction plant in Colombia. The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative seeks to drive international cooperation to end new development of fossil fuels. PHOTO | JUAN BARRETO | AFP


A new global initiative is calling for immediate end to expansion of existing oil reserves and the start of a global phase down of coal, oil, and gas exploitation in a mix of strategies to help limit emissions from fossil fuels.

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative (FFNPTI) seeks to drive international cooperation to end new development of fossil fuels among other policies such as retiring existing fossil fuel infrastructure and cancelling new projects. It was introduced by small islands including Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Niue and the Solomon Islands, who on Monday called on all countries to sign the treaty.

The Pacific nations also called on scaling up of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, even as the UN climate science body released the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Monday, where it noted that public and private finance inflows for fossil fuels far surpass funds for climate mitigation and adaptation.

The report warned that the world must rapidly shift away from burning fossil fuels, the number one cause of the climate crisis.

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A herd of cattle feeding besides a burning pile of garbage at Mukuru Kayaba slums, Nairobi Kenya on March 22, 2020. PHOTO | NMG

The IPCC notes that staying within a 1.5 °C temperature rise is only achievable with urgent action to phase out coal, oil and gas. This has resulted in more frequent and intense extreme weather events that have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world, but mostly on small islands and coastal areas.


Climatic catastrophe fuelling

According to authorities in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar, the death toll due to the exceptionally long-lasting tropical Cyclone Freddy has risen to 522 in Southeast Africa.

Cyclone Freddy dissipated over land last week after it made a second landfall in Mozambique and then Malawi over the weekend, causing mass devastation in several regions including Malawi’s financial capital Blantyre.

Read: Why Freddy is an exceptional storm

According to the IPCC report, future carbon dioxide emissions from existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure alone could reach 850 GtCO2, in the early 2050s, surpassing the limit of 510 GtCO2 allowable to limit warming to 1.5 °C.

The report notes that the largest share and growth in gross greenhouse gas emissions continues to occur in CO2 from fossil fuels combustion and industrial processes.

It is estimated that over 40 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are due to burning of fossil fuels for electricity generation.

The small islands are backed in their quest by the European Parliament and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“In simple terms, the IPCC says once again that the coal, oil, and gas we already have under production will blow us past our climate goals. The summary for policymakers is simple; stop new fossil fuel projects, phase down existing polluting projects and put renewable energy access into hyper drive. The science is unequivocal, the problem is the lack of political will that prevents us from acting boldly to reverse this crisis,” FFNPTI Executive Director Alex Rafalowicz said.

“Coal, oil and gas continue to fuel the climate catastrophe, causing widespread devastation in vulnerable regions like the Pacific, where extreme weather events occur regularly and will become even more frequent. Millions of people across the globe are losing their homes, their lives and livelihoods because of the continued expansion of these dirty energies. Our governments must stop pretending that we can ensure public safety while we continue to expand fossil fuels,” said Tzeporah Berman, chair of the treaty initiative and international programme director at

Read: Horn of Africa faces 6th failed rainy season

“They must stop allowing big oil and gas companies to make record profits over destructive impacts to our communities and our environment. This IPCC report once again throws reality in our faces: our house is on fire, so it is past time for world leaders to stand up to their responsibilities and stop pouring gas to fuel the fire,” he said.

As the IPCC on Monday persisted with its decades-long warning on the urgency of phasing out fossil fuels, previous reports from the same cycle noted that the achievement of long-term temperature goals in line with the Paris Agreement required the rapid penetration of renewable energy and a timely phasing out of fossil fuels and that this was technically possible and estimated to be relatively low in cost.

Rows of solar panels in Western Cape, South Africa.

Rows of solar panels in Western Cape, South Africa. PHOTO | ZERO CREATIVES | AFP

However, current international climate agreements took decades to make even a small mention of fossil fuels and continue to fail to address them.

What science says

Vanuatu’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade Ralph Regenvanu said now more than ever, the science is clear about the need to move away from fossil fuels.

“If we don't act fast to tackle the source of this crisis, the loss and damage that my people just experienced with cyclones Judy and Kevin will continue to occur with even greater force and costs,” he said.

The IPCC study titled “Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report” has urged climate resilient development among them reduction or avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions including access to clean energy, low-carbon electrification, the promotion of zero and low carbon transport and improved air quality.

“The greatest gains in wellbeing could come from prioritizing climate risk reduction for low-income and marginalized communities, including people living in informal settlements,” said Christopher Trisos, one of the report’s authors.

“Accelerated climate action will only come about if there is a many-fold increase in finance. Insufficient and misaligned finance is holding back progress,” Trisos said.