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Man carries child through flooded waters

A village official evacuates a child from a flooded area following heavy rains in Dazhou in China's southwestern Sichuan province on July 12, 2021. (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

340+ Groups Tell Governments Worldwide to Prioritize Fossil Fuel Phaseout

"The urgency of the climate crisis demands a rapid reorientation of our societies and economies away from fossil fuels, the key driver of global warming," says a new open letter.

Kenny Stancil

As governments meet this week to approve a summary of part three of the United Nations' landmark climate assessment, which focuses on mitigation, hundreds of environmental justice groups from around the globe shared an open letter Monday imploring reviewers to emphasize the need for a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels to avert the climate emergency's most disastrous outcomes.

"The stakes could not be any higher, the science any clearer, or the imperative for immediate action any greater."

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned—in part two of its tripartite report, which U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described as an "atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership"—that humanity has a "brief and rapidly closing window" to avoid the worst effects of the planetary crisis, which is on track to exacerbate deadly extreme weather, with especially catastrophic consequences for the world's poorest and most marginalized.

"The stakes could not be any higher, the science any clearer, or the imperative for immediate action any greater," states Monday's letter, which is addressed to the co-chairs of the IPCC's Working Group III as well as national representatives and signed by nearly 350 organizations, including the Center for International Environmental Law, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth International, Greenpeace, Heinrich Böll Foundation, and the Indigenous Environmental Network.

"Current levels of warming are already causing permanent loss and damage, especially for the populations most vulnerable to, and least responsible for, the climate crisis," wrote the coalition. "Surpassing 1.5°C of warming—even temporarily—will unleash further irreparable harm taking the planet into a point of no return."

"States have a responsibility to translate this scientific consensus into the concrete actions necessary to avert climate catastrophe," the coalition continued. "The urgency of the climate crisis demands a rapid reorientation of our societies and economies away from fossil fuels, the key driver of global warming."

Last August, out of concern that their conclusions would be diluted by policymakers, a group of scientists leaked a draft of the forthcoming IPCC report. It asserted at the time that global carbon emissions must peak by 2025 and all fossil fuel plants worldwide must be shuttered by the end of the decade to meet the Paris agreement's more ambitious target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels by the end of the 21st century.

One day after Guterres warned last week that the 1.5°C goal is "on life support" and at risk of being killed by an ongoing "addiction to fossil fuels," researchers at the United Kingdom-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research estimated that rich countries must end oil and gas production entirely by 2034 to give the world a 50% chance of achieving it.

"There is no time or justification for policy scenarios that fail to center an immediate halt to oil, gas, and coal expansion and the managed phaseout of all fossil fuels," says the coalition's new letter, echoing these earlier warnings. "Planning for overshoot on the premise that geoengineering techno-fixes and carbon trading can reverse temperature rise or mitigate its effects is indefensible."

Stressing that the so-called "Summary for Policymakers" (SPM) of the IPCC's latest findings, expected to be published on April 4, will shape "how the consensus science is understood and in turn, how it is acted upon by policymakers, investors, and the public," the coalition urged the co-chairs of Working Group III and national representatives to ensure that the SPM:

  1. Foregrounds assessments of pathways to rapidly phase out fossil fuels at source, beginning immediately. As IPCC reports have repeatedly affirmed, fossil fuels are the primary cause of climate change. The recent WGII report underscores the dire consequences of current levels of warming and the looming threat of triggering tipping points and catastrophic feedback loops if warming surpasses 1.5°C, even temporarily. Therefore, the principal focus of the IPCC's report on mitigating climate change should be on ending the extraction and use of fossil fuels, recognizing that wealthy nations should begin that phaseout immediately and pursue it fastest, to avoid temperature overshoot;
  2. Acknowledges clearly that reliance on large-sale carbon dioxide removal technologies threatens to result in irreversible harm by pushing the planet beyond 1.5°C warming, from which a return might not be possible. The IPCC must recognize that these technologies pose precisely the sorts of risks to social justice, human rights, and Indigenous Peoples' rights that the IPCC WGII emphasizes need to be incorporated in, not sacrificed through, responses to the climate crisis;
  3. Recognizes that the world no longer has time for misplaced reliance on market-based emissions trading systems and offset mechanisms, disguised as net-zero targets, that neither reduce emissions nor advance the urgent action needed to end reliance on fossil fuels, halt agro-industrial deforestation and biodiversity loss, and accelerate a just transition to a fossil-free future. The IPCC has clearly stated the urgency of staying within a rapidly dwindling carbon budget. Doing so requires that efforts to respect and restore natural systems, consistent with Indigenous Peoples' cosmovision, traditional knowledge, and human and land rights, must be separate from and pursued in addition to emissions reductions policies to phase out fossil fuels, not traded off against them; and
  4. Heeds the warnings of WGII on the novel and possibly catastrophic risks that the deployment of Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) would pose for people and ecosystems, as well as for international cooperation and peace. Delegations must ensure that SRM is excluded from discussions of climate change mitigation measures and not treated as a legitimate response to the climate crisis.

"The IPCC's Summary for Policymakers should not conceal the stark scientific realities that the full report lays bare," Nikki Reisch, director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law, said in a statement. "The climate crisis is accelerating and fossil fuels are the overwhelming cause. Any report on mitigation that fails to emphasize that fact is denying the very science to which the IPCC is committed."

"To avoid the irreversible harm of overshooting 1.5°C, we must end dependence on fossil fuels and phase out their production and use as rapidly and equitably as possible," Reisch added. "Governments have a responsibility to ensure this truth is front and center in the summary of the IPCC's findings on mitigation. They also must convey the danger of relying on technologies like large-scale carbon dioxide removal and carbon offset schemes that threaten to push warming beyond 1.5°C, triggering irreversible harm to people and nature."


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