In these closing days of COP27, governments are negotiating the final text detailing the key agreements reached at the United Nations climate change summit in Egypt. The first glimpse of that document was released on November 14, revealing a glaring omission: fossil fuels.
To uphold their human rights obligations, governments should commit to a phase out of all fossil fuels as an overarching agreement of COP27.
Fossil fuels are the primary driver of the climate crisis. All stages of fossil fuel use – exploration, extraction, production, storage, transport, refining, combustion, and disposal – can be linked to human rights harms. The impacts of both climate change and such human rights harms are disproportionately borne by marginalized communities, which have contributed little to the crisis and have the least ability to confront it.
There is a growing consensus, including from the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that for governments to meet global climate targets there cannot be new oil, gas, or coal development. There is also growing agreement that existing fossil fuel projects are already more than the climate can withstand if we want to prevent the worst outcomes of climate breakdown.
Yet, until last year, fossil fuels have never been explicitly mentioned in any final agreement reached at the annual climate COP summit. This includes the Paris Climate Accord, which does not mention the words, “fossil fuels,” “oil,” “gas,” or “coal.”
At COP26 in Glasgow, governments did agree on a call to accelerate “efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” Still, this falls well-short of what is needed by governments to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or to address the human rights harms linked to fossil fuel operations.
The European Union, United Kingdom, and India are joining an alliance of small island states, members of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance – comprised of national and subnational governments, and a growing chorus of civil society to push for tougher pledges on all fossil fuels in the final COP27 agreement. These efforts should be supported and strengthened.
Implementing a managed rapid phase out of fossil fuel production and use, as well as a just and equitable transition, is a profound opportunity that governments should seize to avert the worst of the climate crisis and defend human rights.