More than two thousand leading scientists and academics have called on world leaders to commit to a new fossil fuel ‘non-proliferation treaty’, committing to urgently phase out the use of coal, gas and oil in response to the emerging threats posed by climate change.
The open letter has been delivered to UN secretary-general António Guterres, ahead of meetings of the UN General Assembly and UN climate change negotiations later in the year, which is set to be a focal point for governments to strengthen policies and targets to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to transition to zero emissions energy sources.
The academics call on governments to recognise that the use of fossil fuels is the leading contributor to rising emissions – responsible for almost 80 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution.
The letter asks governments to end the expansion of fossil fuel production and commit to the phase-out of fossil fuel production altogether, which it describes as akin to a fossil fuel ‘non-proliferation treaty’.
“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 says.
“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.
“This, in turn, should be underpinned by financial resources, including technology transfer, to enable a just transition for workers and communities in developing countries and a decent life for all.”
The open letter has been signed by almost 2,200 scientists and academics, including Macquarie University’s professor Lesley Hughes, the Australian National University’s emeritus professor Will Steffen and former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery.
Hughes said that delays in global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would ultimately lead to worsening climate change.
Leading signatories also include professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University, Michael Mann, Nobel prize winner prof Muhammad Yunus and David Suzuki.
“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,” Hughes said.
Rebecca Byrnes, the deputy director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative added that world leaders should follow the advice being provided by leading scientists on the need to phase out the use of fossil fuels, as it had done in response to ozone depletion.
“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,” Byrnes said.
“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,” Byrnes added.
The call for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty coincides with an open letter sent by Australia’s medical profession to prime minister Scott Morrison that calls on the federal government to commit to a plan to protect Australians from the health impacts of climate change, including setting new emissions reduction targets consistent with limiting global warming to just 1.5 degrees.
The letter sent to Morrison has been co-signed by a dozen leading health professional groups, including the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP).
“As doctors, we understand the imminent health threats posed by climate change and have seen them already emerge in Australia. The 2019-2020 bushfire season in Australia saw parts of the country afflicted by the poorest air quality in the world, with large numbers of the population enduring weeks of bushfire smoke and the related adverse health impacts,” the letter says.