The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is a global effort to foster international cooperation to accelerate a transition to clean energy for everyone, end the expansion of oil, gas and coal, and wind down existing production in keeping with what science shows is needed to address the climate crisis.

We interviewed the environmental campaigner and chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, Tzeporah Berman, to learn more about why this treaty is a critical step towards a healthy and prosperous planet for all. 

Why did you start this initiative?

I have been working on environmental and climate change issues now for over 30 years. I decided to found the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative because of my own experiences as a government policy advisor in Canada. Although the government was working to reduce carbon pollution and create a climate plan, they were continuing to approve new licences for oil drilling and fracking for gas. They simply didn’t believe that it was their responsibility to limit production, only emissions.

It also became clear to me that it is difficult for one country to act alone. Every country knows we need to stop expansion and wind down fossil fuels if we are going to secure a safe climate but they all want to be the last barrel sold. I started trying to understand what mechanisms there were for global cooperation to solve this problem and realised that the Paris Agreement doesn’t even contain the words 'fossil fuels' or the words 'oil', 'gas' or 'coal'. Fossil fuels are not mentioned once despite the fact that they are responsible for 86% of carbon emissions in the last decade. They are a threat to our climate but also to the global economy, health, peace and all human rights!

The Paris Agreement sets a benchmark for global climate action through its temperature goal. However, only addressing half of the equation has allowed countries and companies to claim climate leadership while still supporting new fossil fuel projects. Last week, the UNEP Production Gap 2023 confirmed that fossil fuel extraction plans are indeed undermining the world’s chances of meeting our global climate targets. The report revealed that, despite their climate pledges, governments still plan to produce around 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.

Based on these facts, as well as on the best practices of former treaty campaigns and existing struggles led by frontline communities, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative started in 2019 through a Climate Breakthrough award.

Today, it is carried by adiverse Steering Committee, an international support team, and backed by a large and diverse civil society network.

Why is it important?

First, the Fossil Fuel Treaty proposal is important because it responds to the huge and urgent challenge the climate crisis poses. It tackles the very source of the problem science has been alerting world leaders about for decades - the production of oil, gas and coal. The UNEP as mentioned, the IPCC Reportbut also the IEA - which tends to have rather conservative positions on energy -  all agree that current fossil fuel production is incompatible with the future of humanity. Last month, the World Energy Outlook 2023 confirmed that the macroeconomic context foresees a global decline in fossil fuel demand, sooner than expected, making clear that phasing out fossil fuels is inevitable to avoid climate but also economic chaos.

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative provides a plan for a managed and fair phase-out based on international cooperation and three key pillars:

  • Non-proliferation: stop the expansion of new coal, oil and gas fields
  • Fair phase out: from existing production in line with 1.5C
  • Just transition: support and finance a global shift to renewables in which no worker, community or country is left behind

Putting an end to fossil fuel dependence requires international cooperation agreements that will support development pathways that are not based on fossil fuel extraction, exclusion, and exploitation by rich countries eager to maintain their economic and political influence. Global North are historical contributors to the climate crisis and therefore have a responsibility to transition first and fastest, while also supporting fossil fuel dependent economies with less capacity to transition.

The Fossil Fuel Treaty could provide the missing legal framework to foster sustainable economic opportunities, especially in the most impacted and least responsible countries and communities, a fundamental first step to guarantee access to human rights and to life!

Why is it important the financial sector joins the initiative?

Every industry, including the financial sector, depends on our climate remaining stable. However, the financial sector in particular has a critical role to play in ensuring a safe and just transition away from fossil fuels. Today, too much finance is still flowing towards the further expansion of fossil fuels and driving and enabling further destruction.

A Fossil Fuel Treaty will play an important role in solidifying the direction of travel for the financial sector, removing the barriers to business model transformation and creating a more level playing field. It will help to create a policy landscape that fosters new finance models away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy and wider diversification. Without a Fossil Fuel Treaty  in place, the continued growth of fossil fuel supply and production risks undoing progress made to date, creating stranded assets, and increases the likelihood of our remaining carbon budgets being exceeded.

While corporate commitments from the sector are growing in number, their integrity is increasingly being challenged due to the limited impact in reducing absolute emissions to date, an over dependence on technologies that are not proven at scale, and a failure to address the root cause of the climate crisis.

We welcome Triodos Bank's support in becoming the first bank to back the call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. They are showing the role financial institutions in particular can play in not enabling dangerous fossil fuel production and instead actively supporting cleaner and fairer energy sources.

Who else is backing it?

The Fossil Fuel Treaty campaign started only three years ago and we are getting more and more support from a large variety of actors.

The global network behind the campaign is now formed by 2000 civil society organisations, over 3,000+ scientists and academics, 101 Nobel laureates, the World Health Organisation and hundreds of health professionals, a Vatican Cardinal and thousands of religious institutions, a growing number of indigenous organisations and youth activists, 100 cities including LA, Kolkata, Lima, Vancouver and Sydney as well as a number of major cities across Europe including London, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Paris. and more than 600 Parliamentarians across the world and the European Parliament, and now a growing number of businesses.

By the end of 2022, the support for the initiative entered the international political scene, with two nation-states officially calling for the development of a Fossil Fuel Treaty: Vanuatu and Tuvalu, who have been joined this year by six other countries. It is now a bloc of eight countries from the Pacific, the Caribbean and South Asia who are supporting the call for a Treaty.

What are your expectations about COP28?

Discussions are underway with other governments and we hope some of them will join at COP28 or in early 2024.

As I mentioned, the scientific community is unanimous on the urgent need to put an end to our fossil fuel dependence. Oil, gas and coal destroy entire territories and cultures, provoque deadly conflicts and jeopardise access to every single human rights: food, water, health, education, employment, biodiversity and peace.

What we need now, at COP28 and more broadly in the international climate governance institutions, is what we need now is political will on the part of decision-makers. The idea that fossil fuel phase-out is not feasible because of lack of financial or technical means is false. We have enough money, enough ongoing fossil fuel production and enough renewable energy potential in every region of the world to ensure a just transition to a world free from fossil fuels.

What we don’t have is enough action and courage from our political leaders to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and commit to stop expansion and create a plan for an equitable phase out that leaves no one behind.

What are the next steps you’d like to see?

Our priority is now to form a group of core countries who can open a negotiation mandate for a Fossil Fuel Treaty. The negotiation processes for other treaties addressing global threats to humanity have taken different legal pathways that can go through a UN General Assembly resolution, the UN Environment Assembly, or an independent process outside the UN system.

At this stage, we are still open to the form this second step will take but what is certain is that we need to keep putting pressure on governments to take real climate action and we need the financial actors to also come on board for this urgently needed just transition to become real.

The era of fossil fuels is coming to an end. Financial institutions need to recognise their role in shaping our response to the climate crisis and use their investments and wider activities to support a fair, fast and financed shift away from fossil fuels and the ambitious policies that will be necessary to achieve this.

By supporting the Fossil Fuel Treaty, businesses can play a vital role in securing the international and multi stakeholder approach needed to deliver fossil fuel phase out and secure a safe future for all.

We urge other companies to join us and support the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, both through their actions and their advocacy, in order we build a, fossil fuel free future together.