Global treaty needed to stop spread of fossil fuel energy, says island leader

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Cop27 Flag; Climate Change; United Nations

The world should confront climate change the way it does nuclear weapons by agreeing to a non-proliferation treaty that stops further production of fossil fuels, a small island leader proposed as vulnerable nations pushed for action at international climate talks.

“We all know that the leading cause of climate crisis is fossil fuels,” Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano told fellow leaders at the Cop27 summit in Egypt.

He said that his country has “joined Vanuatu and other nations calling for a fossil fuels non-proliferation treaty… It’s getting too hot and there is very (little) time to slow and reverse the increasing temperature. Therefore, it is essential to prioritise fast-acting strategies that avoids the most warming.”

The idea of a non-proliferation treaty for coal, oil and natural gas has been advanced by churches, including the Vatican, and some scientists, but Mr Natano’s speech gave it a bigger boost in front of a global audience.

A year ago at climate talks in Glasgow, a proposal to call for a “phase out” of coal — the dirtiest of the fossil fuels — was changed at the last minute to “phase down” after a demand from India, earning the wrath of small island nations and some vulnerable countries.

Small island nation leaders also called for some kind of global tax on the profits of fossil fuel corporations that are making billions of dollars of profit a day during a global energy crisis triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“While they are profiting the planet is burning,” said Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of his and other small island nations.

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa called on similar nations to form a “countermanding bloc of the victims of climate change”.

In a departure from the criticism that rich countries have so far endured from many developing nations’ leaders at this year’s international climate meeting, the president of Malawi praised leaders present in Egypt for simply showing up.

“The temptation to abstain from Cop this year was great,” President Lazarus Chakwera said, “because of the great and unprecedented economic hardships your citizens are suffering in your own nation”, he said. “But you resisted this temptation and chose the path of courage.”

Mr Chakwerea said any agreements forged at the two-week meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh should recognise the different abilities of developed nations like the United States and high-productivity countries such as China on the one hand, and developing nations like his own on the other.

So far, China has insisted that it cannot be held to the same standards as developed economies such as the United States or Europe because it is still lifting millions of its citizens out of poverty. But there is growing pressure on Beijing to step up its climate efforts given its massive economic clout.

Jochen Flasbarth, a senior German official and veteran climate negotiator, said China only formally meets the criteria of a developing country.

“In truth it is the top emitter worldwide and it is also an extremely prosperous economy,” he said. “That’s why we expect, and this is also being done in some areas, that more responsibility is taken on (by China), nationally and internationally.”

Meanwhile, United Nations security-general Antonio Guterres and leaders such as Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said it was time to make fossil fuel companies contribute to funds which would provide vulnerable countries with financial aid for the climate-related losses they are suffering.

“It is about time that these companies are made to pay a global carbon tax on their profits as a source of funding for loss and damage,” Mr Browne said. “Profligate producers of fossil fuels have benefited from extortionate profits at the expense of human civilisation.”

And if the small islands cannot get a global tax on fossil fuel profits, Mr Browne suggested going to international courts to get polluters to pay for what they have done. A group of scientists from Dartmouth College, US, calculated specific damages for all the world’s countries and how much was caused by other nations, saying it would work well in international court cases.

Mr Browne also quoted William Shakespeare’s Macbeth in sharing his frustration with lack of action.

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death,” Mr Browne said.

Despite 27 climate summits “tomorrow has not come. Governments and corporations come to the Cop each year delivering grand statements with lofty commitments. But these commitments are only partially honoured,” he said.

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