Despite the General Assembly being preoccupied with the war in Ukraine there was a groundbreaking moment when Vanuatu became the first nation state to sign the Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty.

Press Release from the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Organisation.

NEW YORK CITY – 23 September 2022

Today, Vanuatu called on other nations to join them in establishing a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, a proposed international mechanism that aims to explicitly address the source of 86% of CO2 emissions that cause climate change: fossil fuels. 

The President of Vanuatu His Excellency Nikenike Vurobaravu made the historic call on the floor of the UN General Assembly, making Vanuatu the first nation-state to call for an international mechanism to stop the expansion of all new fossil fuel projects, and manage a global just transition away from coal, oil and gas. The President of Vanuatu will also launch their call for a Treaty to phase out fossil fuels on stage at the 2022 Global Citizen Festival in Central Park this Saturday.

In his speech, President Nikenike Vurobaravu said: “Every day we are experiencing more debilitating consequences of the climate crisis. 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. This emergency is of our own making. Our youth are terrified of the future world we are handing to them through expanding fossil fuel dependency, compromising intergenerational trust and equity. We call for the development of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to phase down coal, oil and gas production in line with 1.5ºC, and enable a global just transition for every worker, community and nation with fossil fuel dependence.”

The call for a Fossil Fuel Treaty has already been endorsed by more than 65 cities and subnational governments around the globe, including London, Lima, Los Angeles, Kolkata, Paris and the Hawai’i State Legislature. Recently the proposal has also been supported by the Vatican and the World Health Organisation.

Significant momentum has built behind the proposal in recent months and Vanuatu’s call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is a pivotal step toward building formal diplomatic support for the proposal. Similar moments were pivotal in the legal pathway toward treaties to manage the threats of nuclear weapons and landmines.

This historic call doubles down on Vanuatu’s commitment to climate action, following their submission earlier this month of one of the world’s most comprehensive climate targets under the UN. Vanuatu has also been leading a campaign to have the International Court of Justice issue an opinion on climate justice and human rights, which paves the way for a new era of international climate policy focused on equity and justice and addressing the biggest drivers of the climate crisis – coal, oil, and gas.

Vanuatu, an already carbon-negative country that absorbs more emissions than it produces, is rated the country most at risk of natural disasters according to the United Nations. Countries on the frontlines of this crisis have been calling for urgent, tangible action on climate as they face the impacts of climate change and sea level rise in real-time. 

Brianna Fruean, a Pacific Climate Warrior and 2022 Global Citizen Prize Winner said: “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”

Pacific leadership has been essential to the international approach to climate change. Vanuatu’s call for an international framework to manage a just transition away from fossil fuel production sends a very strong message of hope, determination and urgency, both globally and regionally to Australia and New Zealand. 

Kalo Afeaki, Pacific Climate Warrior from the Kingdom of Tonga, said: “Fossil fuels did this, and if we continue to burn them, we will see more islands in the Pacific, islands like my home of Tonga disappear. We need countries to be bold, because we have run out of time. The future scares me – we need to phase out fossil fuels, we need countries to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and we need them to do so now.”

Mary Gafaomalietoa Sapati Moeono-Kolio, Pacific Treaty Champion, New Zealand Climate Action Network Board said: “By calling for a Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty, Vanuatu has once again showed the world the Pacific’s climate leadership. The treaty will be a way forward and will complement the goals of Paris to limit emissions by cutting off supply and accelerating the Just Transition. There is no other way to 1.5 – the world must now respond.” 

This historic first call reinforces the global momentum around the proposed Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. For the past two years, the proposed Fossil Fuel Treaty has gained support from thousands of civil society organisations, major cities, hundreds of Parliamentarians, Nobel Laureates, Indigenous peoples, trade unions, faith leaders, youth activists and health professionals. Now the proposal has been made by Vanuatu within the international policy arena.

Here’s hoping the call to other states to follow will be heeded, hopefully supported by carbon pricing policies which make decarbonisation the logical path.