Tuvalu is the first to call for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty at COP27

The small Pacific island of Tuvalu is highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. At COP27, it demanded strict targets for the transition from fossil fuels.

  • The island of Tuvalu is the first to call for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty at COP27.
  • In 2015, Vanuatu made demands for such a treaty following the devastation caused by cyclone Pam.
  • For now, no major CO2 emitter has accepted Tuvalu’s request.

Tuvalu has become the first country in the world to use the United Nations climate conferences to demand an international fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, which would gradually eliminate the use of coal, oil, and gas.

The small Pacific island nation, which is extremely vulnerable to the rise in sea levels caused by global warming, followed in the footsteps of Vanuatu, another Pacific island that demanded a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty back in 2015, after cyclone Pam destroyed 96 per cent of the island’s crops.

Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Kausea Natano © Hannah McKay – Pool/Getty Images

The seas are starting to swallow Tuvalu

Representatives for Tuvalu did not travel to Egypt to take part in COP27 in person, but Prime Minister Kausea Natano, addressing the conference remotely, said that “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”.

Climate activists responded favourably to Tuvalu’s request and decried the actions of major polluters, including the US and China, who made sure that the use of fossil fuels was not in danger during the talks at COP26 in Glasgow last year. During the previous conference, participating countries agreed for the first time to “gradually reduce” the use of coal, while gas and oil were not even mentioned.

“We, therefore, unite with a hundred Nobel peace prize laureates and thousands of scientists worldwide and urge world leaders to join the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty to manage a just transition away from fossil fuels,” Natano concluded.

A new treaty to support the transition

“Countries like Tuvalu are the ones on the frontlines, they know they can’t just give in to the vested interests of the fossil fuel companies,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International. “We know who the victims of the climate crisis are and we know who the perpetrators are but we don’t ever discuss fossil fuels, the elephant in the room”.

Singh noted that a treaty on fossil fuels, based on the model of the nuclear weapon non-proliferation treaty, must focus on the demand for fossil fuels and thus on extraction, limiting the exploitation of reserves while also setting targets for a fairer transition to renewable energy.

Two conference participants from Tuvalu at COP27 in Egypt © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For now, no major emitter has supported Tuvalu’s request

For now, the idea of explicitly accepting the invitation to reduce the use of fossil fuels does not seem to be a priority for the governments gathered in Sharm el Sheikh. The goal of such a treaty would be to give legal substance to the scientific community’s demand to “keep it in the ground”, ceasing the extraction of oil, gas, and coal. These activities are still not regulated, even though the International Energy Agency has warned that no new coal, oil, or gas infrastructure should be built if we are to avoid the most disastrous effects of global warming.

Although no major polluter has thus far considered the request for a new treaty, the suggestion was supported by the Vatican, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and a network of mayors including London mayor Sadiq Khan. Activists hope that support for Pacific island nations will contribute to bringing about a similar momentum to that which led to the historic Paris Agreement, where, for the first time, a 1.5-degree limit for the rise of global average temperatures was set.

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