Impact Voices | November 1, 2021

International cooperation and open data are key to a just transition away from fossil fuels

Mark Campanale
Guest Author

Mark Campanale

This week, 196 countries are gathering in Glasgow for the long-awaited COP26 climate summit. They will work to deliver on their Paris Agreement commitments by reviewing their climate plans for the upcoming decade. 

The Paris Agreement was a milestone in climate governance and its objective was clear: to implement a legal instrument that strengthens commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep temperatures below the critical 1.5°C limit. 

However, in the five years since it was signed, the Paris Agreement has failed to constrain fossil fuel supply. The reason? The Paris Agreement does not mention fossil fuels once, even though coal, oil and gas are responsible for almost 80% of all carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution.

Instead of phasing out the primary cause of the climate crisis, countries are on track this decade to produce more than double the fossil fuel production consistent with the 1.5°C limit. 

To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement this must change. 

The expansion of new fossil fuels must end immediately. The International Energy Agency made clear that the expansion of any new coal, oil or gas production is incompatible with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target. 

Yet ending expansion of new fossil fuel projects is not enough. If burnt, existing stockpiles of oil and gas alone will blow the Earth’s remaining carbon budget. To keep warming below 1.5ºC and meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, world leaders must phase out at least 6% of existing fossil fuel production per year over the coming decade according to the UNEP’s Production Gap Report.

This alone will be a great challenge, but the real test for world leaders is whether they can work together in the spirit of international cooperation to make the transition not only fast, but also fair. 

The fossil fuel era is coming to an end. The most recent IPCC report was heralded as a ”death knell” for the fossil fuel industry by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The end of coal, oil and gas is now inevitable but the question is whether the transition will be chaotic and unmanaged, with companies focusing on their own profit, or orderly and managed by governments working together to facilitate an equitable transition that ensures no worker, community or country is left behind. 

Rhetoric gap

To achieve a just transition, we need an international mechanism that complements the Paris Agreement and facilitates an equitable phase out of coal, oil and gas. We need a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Based on successful treaties banning the proliferation of nuclear weapons, landmines or ozone-depleting chemicals, momentum is building behind an international framework with three key pillars:

  1. Ending the expansion of any new oil, gas, and coal production in line with the best available science as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and United Nations Environment Program;            
  2. Phasing-out existing production of oil, gas, and coal at the pace required to meet the 1.5C goal, and in a manner that is fair and equitable, taking into account the responsibilities of countries for climate change and their respective dependency on fossil fuels, and their capacity to transition;
  3. Ensuring a global just transition for 100% access to renewable energy globally, supporting dependent economies to diversify away from fossil fuels, and enabling people and communities across the globe to flourish.

With the climate emergency accelerating, inequalities intensifying, and the scientific consensus becoming increasingly clear, world leaders address the elephant in the room of international climate negotiations – fossil fuels. Governments meeting in Glasgow must recognize the inevitability of the transition and act with consistency in regards to their emission reduction commitments. Some governments – such as Costa Rica, Denmark, Greenland, Ireland, Portugal and Spain – have begun to ban the expansion of new coal, oil or gas within their own territories, proving it is possible to tackle the climate crisis at its root. Yet others, including COP 26 host itself, the UK, claim to be climate champions while handing out new licenses to fossil fuel projects.

A concrete tool to highlight the gap between governments and investors’ climate rhetoric and their actual actions will be the Global Registry of Fossil Fuels, an independent and accessible database of all fossil fuel reserves and projects around the world expressed in CO2-equivalent. Catalyzed by the Treaty Initiative, this registry is now being developed by the Global Energy Monitor and Carbon Tracker and a beta version will be launched at COP 26. The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels will be an instrument to promote transparency and accountability.

We hope several governments will support the idea of this key database becoming a part of the UN system to formally keep track of fossil fuel production plans and thus, enhance consistent climate action. In short, the Global Registry can be a major tool to codify what is in the ground and enable us to manage the carbon budget. 

As COP 26 approaches, the call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty keeps gaining widespread support. In April 2021, 101 Nobel Laureates, including His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, called on world leaders to act globally to stop fossil fuel expansion. More than 2,500 scientists, over 800 civil society organizations and major cities including Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, Barcelona, as well as Sydney have endorsed the proposed Treaty.

Moreover, Parliamentarians from the Global South – where countries are particularly vulnerable to continuing fossil fuel expansion – are now calling on governments, public institutions and corporations to take more decisive climate actions to shift away from fossil fuels and accelerate energy transition. Already supported by hundreds of their peers worldwide, their call for a Fossil Fuel Free Future will be publicly launched in Glasgow, showing UN negotiators the example of real climate leadership that answers both the emergency and the need to put the interests of the most vulnerable countries at the heart of a managed global transition.

Mark Campanale is Founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative and serves on the steering committee of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.