The Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu has become the first nation in the world to call for the halt of new coal, oil and gas projects through the establishment of an international treaty.
Vanuatu President Nikenike Vurobaravu called for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty at the 77th meeting of the UN General Assembly, where world leaders are discussing the cascading climate, energy and geopolitical crises over the past week.
“Every day we are experiencing more debilitating consequences of the climate crisis,” President Vurobaravu told the UN.
‘Fundamental human rights are being violated, and we are measuring climate change not in degrees of Celsius or tons of carbon, but in human lives.
“Our youth are terrified of the future world we are handing to them through expanding fossil fuel dependency.”
Vanuata says the “Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty” should be used to phase down coal, oil and gas production in line with 1.5°C, and enable just transitions for workers, communities and nations dependent on fossil fuels.
Vanuatu’s call received immediate political support in Australia from the Greens and from independent senator David Pocock.
“For many of our Pacific Island neighbours, climate change is an existential threat,” Pocock said. “Australia needs to step up and show leadership in the region by taking swift and decisive action.
“The world dealt with the hole in the ozone created by CFCs with the Montreal Protocol, a coordinated and concerted global effort. We can do the same with greenhouse gas emissions.
Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt, whose party has been pushing for the Albanese government to commit to a targeted phase-out of fossil fuels, also welcomed the concept.
“If Labor wants to be a serious player on climate and host international negotiations it needs to stop new coal and gas. Australia should join its Pacific neighbour Vanuatu in the push for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
Campaign for fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty gains momentum
The campaign for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty has found support from multiple international organisations, networks and advocates seeking transformative climate action.
The World Health Organisation and nearly 200 global health associations last week joined the call for a treaty, adding to the support of thousands of scientists, academics, and Nobel Laureates.
More than 65 city and subnational governments have also endorsed the call for the global mechanism, including the ACT and the City of Sydney.
The campaign seeks to emulate the work of nuclear and landmine non-proliferation campaigns, both of which resulted in global treaties.
Pacific climate leadership endures
Vanuatu recently submitted one of the world’s most ambitious climate policies to the United Nations, committing to 100 per cent renewable energy electricity generation by 2030.
The small island state has also been leading a high-profile campaign asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to offer an advisory opinion on nation-states’ legal obligations to avoid climate harm.
The action would see the ICJ provide “legal clarification” over the responsibility of states to act on climate, which could inform future climate litigation efforts.
“The UN’s International Court of Justice is the only principal organ of the UN system that has not yet been given an opportunity to help address the climate crisis,” President Vurobaravu said.
An outcome from the ICJ on prospect of a climate change advisory opinion is expected in the weeks and months following COP27 in Egypt later this year.
Meanwhile, climate advocates have welcomed Vanuatu’s support for a treaty. Brianna Fruean, a Pacific Climate Warrior and a 2022 Global Citizen Prize Winner has called on other nations to follow suit.
“Vanuatu’s call today is a vital investment in our future. They’ve heard the call from our youth that there’s no future for us in fossil fuels and listened. It’s time for other world leaders to do the same.”
Anna Pradhan is a Melbourne-based writer covering climate and environment.