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Sussex Professor's treaty proposal to keep fossil fuels in the ground taken to the UN

A treaty proposal to keep fossil fuels in the ground, developed by a University of Sussex Professor, has been presented to the United Nations Security Council by former Irish President Mary Robinson.

Peter Newell, Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex, first proposed the idea with Sussex Research Associate and co-founder of the New Weather Institute Andrew Simms in an article in The Guardian newspaper in 2018.

The treaty proposal intends to unite nations to prevent the proliferation of fossil fuel use and to phase-out existing stockpiles in line with the 1.5˚C global climate goal. It also seeks to redirect the vast amounts of subsidies given to fossil fuels (which currently stand at 6.3% of global GDP) towards supporting low carbon energy alternatives.

The idea then received backing in a published letter from leading activists such as Naomi Klein and’s Bill McKibben, as well as the heads of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and politicians such as former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Sir Ed Davey.

The treaty proposal has triggered a civil society campaign, and has now been referred to by former Irish President Mary Robinson in her statement to the UN Security Council. She called for ‘work to begin on a new Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty – a bold and innovative idea that seeks to bring transparency, accountability and agreement to the cessation of fossil fuel production in a way that supports jobs and livelihoods.’

In her statement, she also insisted that 'new ideas like these are needed – a new mindset that recognises the urgency of the challenge the IPCC posed in its report on warming at 1.5˚C.'

According to the United Nations and other organisations, the world is on track to produce more than twice as much coal, oil and gas by 2030 than is consistent with limiting the rise in global temperature to below 1.5˚C.

Prof Newell said: “I’m delighted that this idea has now been presented at the UN. We urgently need to embrace approaches which get to the root of the climate change problem.”

There is now growing momentum around proposals such as this with countries such as New Zealand, France and Costa Rica announcing bans on extraction of new oil. Supporters of the treaty believe the UK could show real global leadership at the UN climate summit they are hosting this year by giving the treaty their full support. 

By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Friday, 17 January 2020

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