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An ExxonMobil oil refinery, the second largest in the U.S., is pictured on February 28, 2020 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo: Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images)

An ExxonMobil oil refinery, the second largest in the U.S., is pictured on February 28, 2020 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo: Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images)

2,180+ Scientists Worldwide Demand 'Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty'

"Every fraction of a degree of warming is doing us harm," said one of the open letter's signatories. "This means that every day we delay cessation of fossil fuel burning, we come closer to catastrophe."

Kenny Stancil

As the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly begins Tuesday amid an unrelenting wave of extreme weather, thousands of academics from around the globe are urging governments to negotiate an international treaty to bring about a rapid and just transition away from coal, oil, and gas—"the main cause of the climate emergency."

"This is a global emergency. It requires global coordination to quickly eliminate the immediate cause: deadly fossil fuels."
—Peter Kalmus, NASA

In an open letter delivered on Monday, 2,185 scientists from 81 countries write: "We, the undersigned, call on governments around the world to adopt and implement a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, as a matter of urgency, to protect the lives and livelihoods of present and future generations through a global, equitable phase out of fossil fuels in line with the scientific consensus to not exceed 1.5ºC of warming."

Characterizing the climate crisis as "the greatest threat to human civilization and nature," the letter notes that "the burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—is the greatest contributor to climate change, responsible for almost 80% of carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution."

In addition, a new study showed that "air pollution caused by fossil fuels was responsible for almost 1 in 5 deaths worldwide in 2018," says the letter, which emphasizes that while the negative impacts "derived from the extracting, refining, transporting, and burning of fossil fuels... are often borne by vulnerable and marginalized communities," coal, oil, and gas corporations "concentrat[e] power and wealth into the hands of a select few, bypassing the communities in which extraction occurs."

Coming in the wake of last month's landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report—which U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called a "death knell" for the fossil fuel industry—as well as the International Energy Agency's May report stressing that there is "no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply" if the world is to achieve a net-zero energy system by 2050, the new letter demands "a solution commensurate with the scale of the problem."

"This is a global emergency," NASA climate scientist and signatory Peter Kalmus said in a statement. "It requires global coordination to quickly eliminate the immediate cause: deadly fossil fuels."

Alluding to nuclear treaties created to reduce the threats posed by atomic weapons, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative argues that swiftly phasing out fossil fuel production and expediting the transition to cleaner and healthier alternatives requires "unprecedented international cooperation in three main areas—non-proliferation, global disarmament, and a peaceful, just transition."

To that end, the researchers' letter calls for the development of a new treaty that establishes "a binding global plan" to:

  • End new expansion of fossil fuel production in line with the best available science as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Environment Programme;

  • Phase out existing production of fossil fuels in a manner that is fair and equitable, taking into account the respective dependency of countries on fossil fuels, and their capacity to transition; and

  • Invest in a transformational plan to ensure 100% access to renewable energy globally, support fossil fuel-dependent economies to diversify away from fossil fuels, and enable people and communities across the globe to flourish through a global just transition.

To meet the Paris Agreement's more ambitious objective of limiting planetary heating to 1.5ºC above preindustrial levels, researchers point out, "global greenhouse gas emissions need to be at least 45% lower globally by 2030," as outlined in the IPCC's special 2018 report on the potential impacts of exceeding certain temperature thresholds.

"Any 'net zero' policy that allows for the continued expansion of these weapons of mass destruction is insufficient."
—Rebecca Byrnes, Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative

Although "this requires an average decline in fossil fuel production of at least 6% per year between 2020-2030... the fossil fuel industry is planning to increase production by 2% per year," the letter states, citing the U.N.'s most recent Production Gap report.

According to the letter, "The current dominant approach to tackling climate change focuses on policies that restrict greenhouse gas emissions and the demand for fossil fuels, for example by fostering the growth of substitutes for fossil fuels such as renewable energy and electric vehicles. But there has been limited focus on policies aimed at constraining the production and supply of fossil fuels at the source."

"Efforts to reduce demand for fossil fuels will be undermined if supply continues to grow," the letter argues, because failing to immediately curb the extraction of coal, oil, and gas ensures that "countries will continue to overshoot their already insufficient emissions targets."

Signatory Lesley Hughes, professor of Biology at Macquarie University and member of Australia's Climate Council, said that "every fraction of a degree of warming is doing us harm. This means that every day we delay cessation of fossil fuel burning, we come closer to catastrophe."

The letter, which will remain open for signatories until COP26 kicks off on October 31 in Scotland, says "it is vital that the global transition towards a zero carbon world is equitable, based on countries' fair share of expected climate action, their historical contribution to climate change, and their capacity to act."

"This means richer countries must reduce production of fossil fuels at a faster rate than poorer countries that require greater support," researchers write. "To enable a just transition for workers and communities in developing countries and a decent life for all," they call for "the redirection of finance and subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy" as well as "technology transfer."

The group of two thousand-plus academics join a growing number of people around the globe who are advocating for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. As Common Dreams reported in April, 101 Nobel laureates implored world leaders to "keep fossil fuels in the ground." Fourteen cities and sub-national governments, over 700 organizations, and more than 132,000 individuals have also endorsed the proposal.

"The world's leading scientists could not be clearer," said Rebecca Byrnes, deputy director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative. "Coal, oil, and gas are the primary cause of the climate crisis and are responsible for nearly one in every five deaths worldwide."

"Any 'net zero' policy that allows for the continued expansion of these weapons of mass destruction is insufficient," she added. "Just as governments came together to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals, or end the proliferation of nuclear weapons, they must now urgently negotiate a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty."

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