Written by: Kimberly White 

Scientists and academics across the globe have joined together in a call to phase out coal, oil, and gas. 

More than 2,000 scientists, researchers, and academics delivered a letter demanding national governments to develop, adopt, and implement a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty in an effort to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of current and future generations. 

“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,” said Lesley Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Biology, Macquarie University and Councillor for the Climate Council.

The signatories are calling on governments to quickly begin negotiations for the development and adoption of a binding global plan that ends the new expansion of fossil fuel production, phases out existing production of fossil fuels fairly and equitably, and invests in a plan to ensure full access to renewable energy globally. 

The burning of fossil fuels is a dominant driver of the climate emergency, accounting for roughly 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution. 

In 2019, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that global greenhouse gas emissions needed to fall by 7.6 percent annually over the next decade to limit warming to 1.5°C. The world needs to urgently shift away from fossil fuels to meet this target. 

Citing UNEP’s 2020 Production Gap Report, the group noted that to achieve the 1.5°C target, fossil fuel production has to fall by at least six percent each year from 2020 to 2030. Despite this, countries are projecting a two percent annual increase in fossil fuel production. 

“Given the significant historical contribution of fossil fuels to climate change, and the industry’s continuing expansion plans, we are calling for a solution commensurate with the scale of the problem,” the letter states. “Phasing down coal, oil and gas in line with 1.5ºC requires global cooperation, in a way that is fair, equitable and reflects countries’ levels of dependence on fossil fuels, and capacities to transition.” 

Richer countries will need to reduce the production of fossil fuels at a faster pace than poorer countries which may require greater support to transition, says the letter. 

While it is imperative that all nations take collective action to reduce and phase out fossil fuels, G20 nations will need to step up their ambition. G20 nations represent 78 percent of global emissions and contribute a significant amount of financial support for fossil fuels. A recent report found that, collectively, G20 countries provided more than $3.3 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies from 2015 to 2019. 

In addition to the climate impacts, fossil fuels also have a devastating impact on human health. Globally, air pollution generated by the burning of fossil fuels was found to be responsible for nearly one in five deaths in 2018.

A 2020 report estimated that air pollution from fossil fuels costs the world nearly $3 trillion annually. 

“The world’s leading scientists could not be clearer – coal, oil, and gas are the primary cause of the climate crisis and are responsible for nearly one in every five deaths worldwide,” said Rebecca Byrnes, Deputy Director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative. “Any ‘net zero’ policy that allows for the continued expansion of these weapons of mass destruction is insufficient. 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.”