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Cities Help Build Momentum for Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty

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A plan for a global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, first introduced last year in a paper co-authored by Canadian climate campaigner Tzeporah Berman, may soon get a boost from three major cities in the United States and Spain.

Resolutions endorsing the treaty are now under consideration in New York, Los Angeles, and Barcelona, Grist reports. “By adopting the treaty, cities could build momentum for a multinational agreement to wind down the dangerous production of fossil fuels—not just curbing emissions—in a similar approach to the global disarmament of nuclear weapons.”

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“There are certain technologies and certain substances that pose such a global risk to humanity that we have an obligation to address that risk together,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law. “New fossil fuel projects are coming online, even as the world already has more fossil fuels developed than it can possibly extract while staying below 1.5°C. And so the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty emerged from the recognition that the world is facing a threat of truly global, historic proportion.”

Paralleling the nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty that nations signed in 1968, the more recent initiative covers three aspects of a fossil fuel phaseout: non-proliferation, with countries putting an end to oil and gas expansion and exploration; global disarmament, where fossil stockpiles and subsidies are phased out; and a “peaceful, just transition to renewable and low-carbon energy,” Grist writes. “The ultimate goal is for the treaty to become a multinational, cooperative agreement in which wealthier nations with the longest histories of fossil fuel production can be the first movers.”

As the world’s biggest oil and gas producer, organizers see good reason for the United States to be first in line to implement the treaty.

Berman, international program director at Stand.Earth, told Grist the non-proliferation treaty is a complement to the Paris Agreement—and a solution to a major gap in the 2015 global deal.

“I was absolutely shocked the first time I sat down and went through the Paris accord and searched for the words ‘oil,’ ‘gas,’ ‘coal,’ and ‘fossil fuels’,” she said. “They don’t exist.” And that isn’t the only disconnect, with some of the world’s top climate champions (Grist lists California, Canada, and Norway) still continuing to build new fossil fuel infrastructure.

“The theory of climate policy for 30 years since [the] Kyoto [Protocol] has been that if we can reduce demand for fossil fuels and increase the price of carbon, that the markets itself will constrain production,” Berman said. “That’s not happening fast enough. And the markets are distorted today by governments continuing to increase subsidies to the fossil fuel industry: billions and billions of dollars.”

Citing Meena Raman, Malaysia-based senior researcher with the Third World Network, Grist stresses how essential it is for the non-proliferation treaty to facilitate a just transition off fossil fuels. “It’s really about assisting developing countries to move in that direction that needs to happen, and for developed countries to stop it, phase out, and power down,” Raman said.