California Senate Majority Whip Lena Gonzalez

California Senate Majority Whip Lena Gonzalez (D-33) speaks at a press conference in Wilmington on March 24, 2023.

(Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images)

'Powerful Example': California Now Largest Economy to Back Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty

"We hope this move locks in real action on ending the era of fossil fuels in California, and spurs other regions, states, and countries to join forces in tackling the root cause of the climate crisis," said one activist.

Climate campaigners in California and beyond celebrated on Friday after the state Legislature affirmed its support for a resolution that urges the U.S. government to join a worldwide effort to develop "a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty as an international mechanism to manage a global transition away from coal, oil, and gas."

Senate Joint Resolution 2 also endorses what advocates call a "just transition," stating that "California affirms the need for a plan to phase out existing fossil fuel production that prioritizes the most impacted workers and local government services with short- and long-term investments that include enforceable labor standards, such as prevailing wages, apprenticeship opportunities, and project labor agreements, to protect workers and communities."

California Senate Majority Whip Lena Gonzalez (D-33), who spearheaded SJR 2, declared Friday that "it is essential that we commit once and for all to ending our reliance on fossil fuels. People around the world, especially low-income people of color, are suffering the adverse health impacts of fossil fuel pollution, from asthma to cancer. The recent devastating fires and hurricanes emphasize the urgency of taking action, to prevent further extreme weather changes."

"The science has been clear for decades—fossil fuels are responsible for the climate crisis," she added. "We can prevent further harm to our communities, and that is why I am proud that California has now been added to the growing list of governments endorsing the fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty. It is time for our nation to be a part of the solution, to forge strong unity and commitment to phasing out the use of fossil fuels."

According to its text, SJR 2 will be sent to Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris—who are seeking reelection next year—as well as the top Democrats and Republicans in Congress, California's congressional delegation, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, every mayor in the state, the United Nations secretary-general, and the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

The resolution was sponsored by the initiative Stand Against Fossil Fuel Expansion (SAFE) Cities and the Indigenous Environmental Network, whose executive director, Tom Goldtooth, said in a statement Friday that "this decision of the state of California is a commitment to take down the single biggest contributor to the climate crisis: the fossil fuel industry."

"California joins the millions of voices across Turtle Island and Mother Earth calling on Biden to follow in the footsteps of our Pacific Island brothers and sisters from the small island states and negotiate a mandate for a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty," he noted. "As the state with the highest population of Indigenous peoples in the country, it is important to pass legislation that would put a halt to the devastation and destruction of the compounding effects of climate change caused by fossil fuels."

"This decision of the state of California is a commitment to take down the single biggest contributor to the climate crisis: the fossil fuel industry."

Along with other local, regional, and national governments, the demand for such a treaty is backed by the European Parliament, the World Health Organization, faith and civil society groups, and individuals across the globe, including Nobel laureates, scientists, and youth leaders.

If California were a country, it would be the fifth-largest economy in the world in terms of gross domestic product, after the full United States, China, Japan, and Germany. The U.S. state is the largest economy to embrace the treaty call so far, according to Alex Rafalowicz, executive director of the Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty Initiative.

Rafalowicz said in a statement Friday that by supporting the treaty proposal, "California sets a powerful example to the international community, underscoring the urgency of fast-tracking an equitable transition away from oil, gas, and coal. This move will catalyze a ripple effect that reaches far beyond state borders."

"By aligning its immense economic and cultural influence with the fossil fuel treaty proposal, California can accelerate its own energy transition, inspiring global cooperation to safeguard our planet and communities," the campaigner continued. "We hope this move locks in real action on ending the era of fossil fuels in California, and spurs other regions, states, and countries to join forces in tackling the root cause of the climate crisis: the production of coal, oil, and gas."

Last December, California regulators approved a blueprint to cut planet-heating emissions by 85% and get the state to carbon neutrality by 2045. Newsom said at the time that "California is leading the world's most significant economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution—we're cutting pollution, turning the page on fossil fuels, and creating millions of new jobs." However, activists have called on him and other state leaders to go further.

Nathan Taft, a California resident and senior digital campaigner for SAFE Cities, said Friday that "Los Angeles was one of the first cities in the world to endorse the fossil fuel treaty, and it's great to see California following its lead by becoming one of the first subnational governments joining this movement to address the climate crisis with the scale and urgency required."

"At the same time, California must follow this historic resolution with concrete policies that protect its residents and the climate from fossil fuels," Taft asserted. "At a bare minimum, California should stop issuing new fossil fuel permits, divest its massive pensions from fossil fuels, and implement all-electric building codes."

Central California Environmental Justice Network oil and gas director Cesar Aguirre similarly argued that the state's support for the treaty "only holds weight if we see meaningful protections come from it" and "no new neighborhood drilling should be the first priority."

The vote in California comes as much of the Northern Hemisphere has endured a summer of extreme heat connected to human-caused global warming and as parties to the 2015 Paris agreement prepare for COP28, a U.N. climate summit hosted by the United Arab Emirates in November.

As Common Dreams reported last November, during COP27 in Egypt, Kausea Natano, prime minister of the Pacific nation Tuvalu, proposed a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty, telling those gathered that "we all know that the leading cause of climate crisis is fossil fuels."

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