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Tuvalu urges COP27 to adopt global treaty on fossil fuels

Attendees from Tuvalu pose
Source: RNZ Pacific

Sharm El-Sheikh, EGYPT — The Tuvalu government has urged countries to establish a global treaty to phase out the use of fossil fuels.

Speaking at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, Tuvalu's Prime Minister Kausea Natano said "the warming seas are starting to swallow our lands - inch by inch. But the world's addiction to oil, gas and coal can't sink our dreams under the waves".

"We, therefore, unite with a hundred Nobel Peace Prize laureates and thousands of scientists worldwide and urge leaders to join the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to manage a just transition away from fossil fuels."

Natano explained fossil fuels are the primary cause of this loss and damage financing with coal, oil and gas fuelling 86 percent of the CO2 emissions in the past decade.

Oil and gas giants, meanwhile, have reported record profits at a time of high energy costs and a cost-of-living crisis.

Support for the treaty

The slow-sinking island nation follows in the footsteps of Vanuatu, Timor-Leste, and New Zealand in making this demand at the international stage.

Opening this discussion at the UN Climate talks, Natano said Tuvalu's support for the proposed treaty joins a wave of recent momentum behind the proposal which was also endorsed by the European Parliament, the Vatican and the World Health Organisation in recent months.

As Tuvalu faces the prospect of their islands disappearing, the prime minister's speech comes with the backdrop of loss and damage being a central issue for the COP27 climate negotiations, one that experts expect to only escalate with every fraction of warming.

Fossil Fuel Treaty Initiative chair Tzeporah Berman said Vanuatu and Tuvalu are the first countries to call for a new treaty as a companion to the Paris Agreement to align oil, gas and coal production with a global carbon budget.

"We will look back on this in history as the moment of reckoning with overproduction that is locking in further emissions and holding us back from bending the curve," Berman said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for all governments to tax the "windfall profits" of fossil fuel companies and redirect the money to people struggling with rising food and energy costs and to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis.

What does the treaty call for?

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty would be a global framework that would complement the Paris Agreement and its core function to prevent global heating from surpassing the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius and support a shift to renewables.

The treaty calls for regulating fossil fuel production with the aim to stop expansion of any new coal, oil and gas while winding down existing fossil fuel production in line.

The major component to the agreement would be the support and sufficient finance - this would be a global transition to renewable energy where no worker, community or country is left behind.

In addition to recent support from nation states, the call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty has been endorsed by more than 70 cities and sub-national governments around the globe, including London, Lima, Los Angeles, Kolkata, Paris and Hawaii.

Tuvalu's call for a treaty during COP27 is a next step towards building formal diplomatic support for the proposal. Similar moments were pivotal in the legal pathway towards treaties to manage the threats of nuclear weapons, ozone-depleting chemicals and landmines.

Last year, Tuvalu Foreign Minister Simon Kofe sought to underscore how vulnerable the country is to global heating by delivering his speech to the COP26 conference while standing knee-deep in the ocean.