Blog post by Sabeen Abbas, June 7, 2021
The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is a campaign by a network of over 400 organizations who have partnered together on the issue of phasing out and stopping the expansion of fossil fuels while ensuring a just transition for all globally (1). Any individual, city, state, organization, or corporation can sign the statement calling for governments to negotiate and ratify a Fossil-Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. This May, the Dalai Lama and over 100 other Nobel laureates signed an open letter calling on world leaders to end the expansion of coal, oil and gas. In 2020, Vancouver became the first city to sign on to the Treaty, followed by Barcelona and Los Angeles this spring. New York City is also currently drafting a motion to put before their municipal council. As Canada's largest city, Toronto needs to be a leader and join this global movement to pressure governments to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
We know that burning fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas, produce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that trap heat on the surface of the Earth. We've known this for a long time (2). We know that continuing to burn fossil fuels at the current rates will continue to increase global temperatures by 3 or 4 degrees Celsius by 2050, a change so significant that parts of the world would become uninhabitable.
The 2015 Paris Agreement holds all signatories to a commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to limit warming to under 2 degrees. Most scientists agree that the sooner we act to reduce GHG emissions, the greater chance we have of meeting these targets. In May, the International Energy Agency's (IEA) report, Net Zero by 2050, made headlines around the world with the announcement that all new fossil fuel projects must be stopped in order to have a slim chance at meeting the goal of net zero by 2050 (3). The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty recognizes that we need to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels if we are to have a chance to maintain a liveable temperature range on Earth for all people. Many communities around the world are already dealing with floods, droughts and other extreme climate events as a result of climate change. Many of the frontline communities dealing with the climate crisis have the lowest carbon footprint and did not create this emergency in the first place.
This Treaty is needed because coal, oil and gas are responsible for almost 80% of all carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution. According to the Treaty website, phasing out fossil fuel production and moving towards alternative energy sources "will require unprecedented international cooperation in three main areas – non-proliferation, global disarmament and a peaceful, just transition." We are currently on track to produce more than twice as much coal, oil and gas by 2030 than would be consistent with a 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperature, according to the UN and other organizations. If we can't burn it, or shouldn't burn it, why are we looking for it and destroying the environment in the process?
Seniors for Climate Action Now! (SCAN!) recently did an analysis and public presentation of the Liberal’s Climate Plan, outlined in ‘A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy’ document (4). Limiting climate change requires stopping our dependence on fossil fuels. In 2005, Canada’s GHG emissions were 730 MT. By 2030, they must be reduced to 511 MT, a difference of 219 MT. Between 2005 and 2018, a period of 13 years, Canada reduced emissions by a total of 14 MT. In the remaining nine years until 2030, Canada must reduce emissions by an average of 17MT/year to meet our targets. We can’t meet these much more challenging targets in the much shorter time frame while continuing to explore for, extract and burn fossil fuels.
I am reminded of that experiment of the frog in the slowly simmering pot of water who doesn't jump out. We are in a climate emergency even if the government isn't acting like it. There is a level of cognitive dissonance in that we know our current demand for fossil fuels is incompatible with meeting emissions targets. Solutions exist at the individual, national and global level to reduce GHG emissions and flatten and decrease the trendline. Corporations will continue to do what’s in their own best interests, which continues to be financial profit, however short-lived that might be. The Fossil Fuel Proliferation Treaty signals to governments that citizens understand the problem, care about the ecological health of the Planet and demand accountability and immediate action consistent with the science on the climate emergency.