At UN SIDS4, Caribbean and Pacific nations reinforce call to negotiate a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

Panellists at the SIDS4 side event ‘Financing a Just Transition from Fossil Fuels: Charting the Path for Small Island Developing States.’ Photo by Dylan Kava courtesy Climate Tracker, used with permission.

This article was first published on Climate Tracker. An edited version appears below with permission.

The Caribbean twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is currently hosting the once-a-decade 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4), a global event dedicated to addressing the unique vulnerabilities and challenges of these nations. The conference aims to foster sustainable development through international collaboration, strengthen resilience against the climate crisis, and advance economic, social, and environmental progress.

At the open plenary of the summit, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) officially announced its endorsement of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty proposal, becoming the 13th nation to join the coalition alongside Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Niue, Antigua and Barbuda, Timor-Leste, Palau, Colombia, Samoa, and Nauru.

These climate-progressive countries are leading a global effort to seek a mandate to negotiate a new legal mechanism that will secure an equitable transition away from oil, gas, and coal and improve the world’s chances of staying within the 1.5°Celsius climate limit.

President of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine explained, “Fossil fuels lie at the heart of the planetary crisis we face today. My country […] understands the perils posed by fossil fuels and the imperative to address them as the urgent threat they represent.”

In the face of escalating climate impacts, her endorsement underscores the island nation’s leadership in the battle against climate change and the defence of human rights.

Why another treaty?

Modelled after successful international agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the new initiative aims to foster global cooperation in mitigating climate change by addressing one of its primary causes: fossil fuel production and consumption.

Its three core objectives are to halt the expansion of fossil fuel production by terminating new exploration and extraction projects, to implement a just and equitable transition plan for workers and communities reliant on the fossil fuel industry, and to promote and support the transition to renewable energy sources.

By directly confronting fossil fuel production and consumption, the treaty aims to ensure a safer, healthier, and more sustainable future. Now, with the inclusion of the RMI, the proposal holds support from 12 of the 39 SIDS nations, as well as Colombia, a significant developing nation and producer of coal and gas.

Susana Muhamad, Colombia's minister of environment and sustainable development, at UN SIDS4. Photo by Dylan Kava courtesy Climate Tracker, used with permission.

Susana Muhamad, Colombia's minister of environment and sustainable development, noted, “The Marshall Islands has historically been a leader in climate negotiations. Their clear representation of climate change realities helps propel the negotiation of a binding Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, vital for a coherent transition aligned with social justice.”

International support for the treaty extends beyond these 13 countries to more than 2,500 civil society organisations in 100+ cities that are also advocating for urgent action to phase out fossil fuels and invest in clean energy solutions. The move is particularly crucial for climate-vulnerable nations like those in the Caribbean.

Fossil fuel dependency in the face of climate vulnerability

Caribbean nations, often categorised as being either dependent on fossil fuel imports or fossil fuel production, are particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of climate change.

Rising sea levels are inundating low-lying areas, displacing communities and damaging infrastructure. The heightened frequency and intensity of hurricanes wreak havoc, resulting in loss of life, economic instability, and developmental setbacks.

Additionally, some oil and gas-rich countries like Suriname, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago possess substantial fossil fuel reserves and play a significant role in the region’s energy landscape.

Following the discovery of significant offshore oil reserves, Suriname and Guyana have emerged as new players in the global oil industry. This has generated optimism for economic growth, employment, and revenue generation. Trinidad and Tobago, meanwhile, has long been a key player in the Caribbean’s oil and gas sector, with the accompanying economic benefits — but the country also faces challenges related to environmental pollution, carbon emissions, and economic diversification.

There is, however, growing recognition of the need for oil and gas-producing countries in the Caribbean to transition towards cleaner, more sustainable energy systems like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Investments in renewable energy infrastructure and technologies also have the potential to stimulate economic development, create green jobs, and reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels.

A bold step for a better future

Sir Molwyn Joseph, Antigua and Barbuda's minister of health, wellness and the environment, at UN SIDS4. Photo by Dylan Kava courtesy Climate Tracker, used with permission.

Molwyn Joseph, Antigua and Barbuda's minister of health, wellness and the environment, emphasised, “It is extremely important for small island developing states to act in solidarity. We cannot rely on large economies responsible for fossil fuel proliferation causing global warming and devastation to island states […] I hope to persuade all Caribbean islands to join this coalition.”

It remains to be seen which Caribbean nations will take the bold step of endorsing the Fossil Fuel Treaty proposal. Data has confirmed that fossil fuels have been responsible for 86 percent of CO2 emissions in the past decade. Close to two-thirds of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution can be traced to just 90 fossil fuel companies, and world governments are on track to produce 110 percent more fossil fuels than is consistent with the 1.5°C goal.

SIDS nations are among the most vulnerable to climate change despite contributing less than 1 percent to global GHG emissions. As they meet in Antigua and Barbuda, the call for an equitable fossil fuel phase-out and global energy transition to be prioritised — and concretely actioned in a way that is fast, fair and financed — is clear.

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