We need a treaty to phase out fossil fuels

Tuvalu foreign minister Simon Kofe speaks during an interview with Reuters

Tuvalu foreign minister Simon Kofe speaks during an interview with Reuters at Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji July 11, 2022 in this screen grab from a video. REUTERS TV/ via REUTERS

Our focus on only limiting fossil fuel emissions - not production - has allowed countries and firms to claim climate leadership while also supporting new coal, oil and gas projects.

Simon Kofe is Tuvalu's Minister of Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs.

Last week I joined leaders from across the Pacific who gathered in-person for the first time in three years and emphasized the importance of fighting the climate crisis and the necessity of declaring a climate emergency.

We have set a strong set of collective priorities as we move closer to the next UN climate summit to be held in Egypt and as the need to excise fossil fuels has become even more critical to our continued existence.

Pacific leadership has long been central to international approaches to climate change, as our region sees the real impacts of the crisis on our shores every day. We have championed international agreements on climate change and useful mechanisms within them, ranging from the UN Framework Convention and its Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement.

RelatedOnce a dirty fuel, Shetland nurtures peat's climate superpower
RelatedFears of 'subprime' carbon assets stall crypto rainforest mission
RelatedBogota crowdsources a green transport future to hit climate goals

When the world adopted the Paris Agreement in December 2015, it was a huge step in spurring climate action after decades of idling. The world finally had a singular agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in pursuit of limiting warming to 1.5°C and to keep it "well below" 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Unfortunately, in just the past decade, 86% of CO2 emissions have been caused by oil, gas and coal, according to the IPCC. Despite this, governments are planning to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels consistent with a 1.5-degree trajectory by 2030, and 10% more than their own climate pledges.

What we're seeing is that fossil fuel supply is now driving demand, so without tackling the supply-side of the equation it will be impossible to meet our Paris goals. We're seeing a need to first break our dependence on fossil-fuel production through a phase out and economic diversification measures.

Currently, our focus on only limiting fossil fuel emissions and not fossil fuel production has allowed countries and companies to claim climate leadership while also supporting new coal, oil and gas projects, directly or indirectly.

In the months since the last COP, we've seen the UK greenlight several fossil fuel projects, the US hold its largest oil and gas sale in history and Canada approve a $12bn offshore oil plan.

And just last week, our leaders welcomed and fully supported Australia's renewed commitment to the Forum's climate change priorities. However, the new Australian government must do more to align itself with the rest of the Pacific family, and we are confident that the new government realizes this.

Movement must be made away from the expansion of coal and gas production if we are to remain in alignment with Paris commitments, regional efforts and our stated goal of overcoming the single greatest existential threat to our region's security and prosperity.

We need both domestic action and international cooperation to explicitly stop the expansion of fossil fuel emissions and production in order to fulfill the aims of the Paris Agreement. We need to move past rhetoric and tricky accounting and move forward with well thought out climate policy and concrete measures and we need to do this together.

The Paris Agreement sets the benchmark for international climate action through its global temperature goal, but unless production is controlled, consumption and therefore emissions will continue to grow faster than we can mitigate.

In this respect, a mechanism like the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty would focus on implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement by tackling the biggest contributor to climate change - fossil fuels - at their source.

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

Getting our governments to sign onto a treaty will be no small task. But we need a clear pathway for a just transition and we need a mechanism to hold governments accountable for the production of fossil fuels.

The world is already overdue for a change. We must close loopholes that allow the fossil fuel industry to run rampant, and we must do that before we are no longer able to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. This is for the sake of our homes and communities today and for the generations yet to come.

For not only the Pacific, but the planet as well.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


  • Fossil fuels
  • Climate policy
  • Climate solutions

Get our climate newsletter. Free. Every week.

By providing your email, you agree to our Privacy Policy.

Latest on Context