The world has to move away from fossil fuels. And a new study lays out a roadmap for how to do it in a fair and just way.
The study published in the journal Climate Policy on Monday shows that wealthy countries with diversified economies should be the first to halt fossil fuel extraction and pay for the costs of a global phase-out.
“We don’t want the transition to a more climate-friendly world to be one that leaves people by the wayside,” Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at Stockholm Environment Institute and co-author of the study, told Gizmodo. “And from a political perspective, if you want to get climate policy rolling, leaving people behind won’t... help you to make allies.”
The authors begin the study by reviewing how fossil fuel extraction impacts countries and communities around the world, creating jobs and economic stability but also pollution, corruption, and greenhouse gas emissions. They conclude that residents of poorer countries with bigger debt burdens will suffer worse impacts from a phase-out that is not explicitly planned to promote equity. For instance, in the developing countries of Timor Leste and Equatorial Guinea, oil and gas revenues provide 60 per cent or more of public revenues. In comparison, they account for barely any of these revenues in the US and UK.
“Ending extraction will be challenging everywhere it happens, but the higher the degree of economic dependency, the greater the challenges,” the study says.
With this lesson in mind, the authors suggest that it’s not just about developed countries taking the lead to addressing climate change. Those countries should also use up less of the remaining carbon budget, the finite amount of carbon the world can commit to the atmosphere in order to limit warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) outlined in the Paris Agreement.
At the same time, all countries need to immediately begin the transition to 100 per cent renewable energy and protect fossil fuel workers from being left behind. But that doesn’t mean they all must do so at the same pace or put up the same amount of money to do so. Those kinds of programmes take financial investment, though, which is harder for poorer countries to drum up. A more just phase-out, the authors say, would put more of the onus on wealthy oil-producing countries such as the US, the UK, Norway and Canada.
Kartha knows that framework may seem idealistic because getting to that point will come with enormous political hurdles. But now is the time to put these principles forward, because as governments grapple with the fallout of the covid-19 pandemic, they have a massive opportunity to make big changes.
The recent collapse of the global oil market amid the covid-19 pandemic shows that upheaval in extractive industries, without protections for workers and communities, can have horrendous economic and social consequences. The US oil patch has suffered, but the impacts are even worse in developing countries dependent on oil. Iraqis, for example, expect to see their salaries and social benefits – 90 per cent of which are funded by oil revenues – cut this year. If world leaders don’t actively prioritise equity in the phase out of fossil fuels, more suffering of this kind abounds.
“Choices about what kind of future we’re heading off to now...are very clearly in our own hands,” said Kartha. “Every society the world as a whole is going to be deciding right now what kind of an economic recovery it chooses for itself. And we very much have a choice of choosing between around recovery, based on sustaining industries in the technologies of the past, or green recovery.”
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