Activists Push for World Leaders to Join Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty

We speak with Harjeet Sing, senior adviser at Climate Action Network, while he is in Glasgow for the U.N. climate summit. Singh and other activists are pressing world leaders to sign the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. This treaty would directly target the fossil fuel industry and outline clear actions every country could take in order to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. “This treaty talks about ending fossil fuel expansion, phasing out, and also just transition,” says Singh. He also speaks about his home country of India, which has only recently become one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases and has fewer resources to adapt while “rich countries have been polluting for more than 100 years.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace ReportAs we continue our Climate Countdown. We will be in New York and Glasgow for two weeks to provide you with comprehensive coverage of the entire event. COP, outside on the streets, and around the world, for people who couldn’t make it to the U.N. climate summit but are active in their own communities. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue our coverage of negotiations at COP26 and the push to address the growing climate crisis by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and funding the transition to renewable energy.

Critics note the Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treaty from the 2015 U.N. climate summit, does not mention the words “coal,” “oil” or “gas” once. Momentum is growing for an international mechanism that can manage a global just transition. This video was produced by the campaign for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

NARRATOR:The nuclear weapons-adept generation was instructed to hide under their desks in event of attack. This generation is facing a much greater threat: the climate crises. They have no place else to hide.

While citizens, cities, and countries work to reduce their emissions, the coal, oil, and gas industry continues to expand fossil fuels behind our backs, causing catastrophic warming.

To survive the climate crisis, you need a bold new idea. The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is now available. Why is there a treaty? The world signed a nonproliferation agreement fifty years ago to avoid nuclear warfare. The Montreal Protocol was established in 1987 to protect the ozone layer. The Paris Agreement begins to limit emissions but doesn’t mention coal, oil or gas. We need a global plan to stop the spread of fossil fuels. A fossil fuel treaty could be used to phase out oil, gas, and coal faster, more fairly, and for ever, while still supporting communities and workers who are dependent on these fossil fuels.

AMY GOODMAN:This is because COP26’s main focus is on securing funds for poor countries to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minster, and Narendra Modi (Indian Prime Minister) co-chaired a meeting this week to launch a fund for small island developing nations to build infrastructure to deal with rising sea levels. Modi speaks in Glasgow.

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI:Excellencies, the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States Launch gives a new hope and trust to vulnerable countries, giving them a chance to do something.

AMY GOODMAN: India is the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the United States.

For more, we’re joined from inside COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, by Harjeet Singh, senior adviser with Climate Action Network and with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, based in New Delhi, India, usually, but in Glasgow now.

Welcome back, Harjeet, to Democracy Now! The fossil fuel —


AMY GOODMAN:You could talk more about the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. What can be done to stop the climate emergency from destroying the world further?

HARJEET SINGH:Amy, this is a huge problem that we are discussing, cutting emissions and mitigation. But we are not focusing enough on fossil fuel. In our discussions, we don’t even mention fossil fuel. How can you not speak about the elephant in your room, the one responsible for the crisis? And the whole negotiations are just avoiding the term “coal, oil and gas.” It’s there on the outside but not in Paris Agreement. And unless you target fossil fuel industry, that continues to enjoy the taxpayers’ money as subsidies to the tune of $11 million a minute — $11 million a minute — you cannot deal with climate crisis. We must target the fossil fuel industry directly.

And that’s exactly what this treaty idea does. We want a treaty to complement the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement has only talked about what, but not how. This treaty addresses ending fossil fuel expansion, phasing it out, and just transition. Many developing countries are still dependent on fossil fuel. Their economy is dependent on it. Their workers are dependent on the fossil fuel industry. How can we phase it out in a way that promotes economic and social justice? And that’s how the pillar that we have in this treaty initiative on just transition is an extremely important aspect, particularly for developing countries, but also for the developed world.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Harjeet, net zero emissions by 2050 was one of the demands of the 2015 Paris agreement. Can you explain exactly what that means? What would it take? What countries have already pledged to do this?

HARJEET SINGH: Well, we call it “carbon neutral” or now this fancy term of “net zero.” Technically, it means that the amount of emissions we are putting into the atmosphere are then either removed or balanced by the sinks, you know, through forests, oceans — and, of course, there’s a lot of emphasis on technology — so that the net emissions are zero.

And while technically it is a correct term, but how many rich companies and countries have started using it to delay action, because they’re talking about a net zero target of 2050 without any near-term goals on how emissions are going to be reduced or how they are going to move away from fossil fuel? And if we only look at the 2050 targets, and many countries have pledged — and U.K. government is making this as a headline thing, that if countries commit to net zero, COP26 is a success. It cannot be a success unless we look at near-term targets, because science tells us that we have to halve the emissions by 2030 — just in nine years. Is this their plan? And we don’t see their plan being discussed, except a handful of countries who are talking about near-term targets. And that’s not going to make us meet the target of Paris Agreement of staying below 1.5 degree. It is very concerning to place so much emphasis on net zero with such a long-term plan and not look at the near-term goals.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, you’ve also said, Harjeet — just to go to other big polluting countries now, you’ve said in another interview that there’s a lot of pressure on India to commit to a net zero target, without recognizing that comparing India and China is not fair. If India did agree to a net zero target by a specific year, it would only be an imaginary exercise that is not based upon empirical studies or analysis of how it can be achieved. Explain what that means.

HARJEET SINGH: Well, that’s exactly, Nermeen, the problem with net zero. You just push for a number. Yes, science has shown us that carbon neutrality is possible by 2050. But when it comes to allocating targets — and that’s where the discussion of carbon budget becomes really important — you cannot expect all countries to become net zero or carbon neutral by 2050.

Yes, you need to look back at the start line if you want the common goal. Polluting countries have been doing so for more than 100 year. They knew for 50 years that climate change was a problem. And whereas if you talk about a country like India, where industrialization began only in the late ’90s, you want India to have a common finish line, without recognizing that 100 million people still do not have access to electricity, without realizing that a quarter of population is still poor. And comparing with China is absolutely not fair, because China’s emissions and economy are four to five times of India’s. You must understand that India will need more time to achieve its targets if it doesn’t have enough resources.

And for India, which was — until the last moment, was not agreeing to a net zero target, had to accede to the pressure, because the whole negotiations over these two weeks would have become very difficult for India. India would have, as you know, become a punching bag. They have let go of the pressure. They have set a date. They have a date. China says 2050, India says 2070, and China says 2060. There have been no empirical studies. These states have not been consulted. I don’t blame the government for this particular action. They had to pick a year because of all the pressure in this space.

AMY GOODMAN:So you can work inside and outside of the country. COPI am referring to your home in India, where you are now, as well as on the streets of Glasgow. And here you are inside. I wanted to ask you about the comments of a researcher at Transnational Institute, Brid Brennan, who said, “COP26 has become a big Bonanza for the Corporate financiers and polluters — derailing a historic opportunity to achieve … CO2 emissions and disinvestment from fossil fuels. Global popular demand for governments to pull back from the brink has urged a strong response. However, polluters and corporate financiers have been pursuing a strategy to privatize the U.N. system and are now in a position to derail any efforts to do so. [substantive] disinvestment from fossil fuels … instead set to implement a big corporate greenwash Bonanza.” Harjeet Singh, can you talk about what is actually happening inside the COPHow can you derail them?

HARJEET SINGH: Well, you know, I’ll go back to the same problem that is at its core of the negotiation, when you don’t talk about fossil fuel industry, when we don’t talk about the interests of corporations and how they have been trying to manage these negotiations. You know that they were also funding the negotiations until this point. COPthe process itself. They were supported by civil society after many advocacy efforts, especially for this purpose. COP. But that’s not enough.

They have increased their power and now they are using the trillions of dollars just so they can say they are on track. They are actually gaining more power. And that’s exactly the reason developing countries and civil society have been saying that we have to talk about public finance. You should know that even the $100 billion, which is supposed attract trillions, does not constitute public finance. If we rely on private finance where the profit motive is at the core of their interest, how can we achieve the kind a transition that should be regarded as a public benefit?

You should know that we are referring to people already facing climate crisis. If we want to shift them from the fossil fuel industry to clean energy, then we need to discuss their interests. So what’s the plan? How are we going to support them? Is it possible for private capitalism to support them and protect their interests? Not at all. They are only going to make profits. And that’s the real challenge that we have right now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Harjeet, could you talk more, explain the issue of climate finance and what’s been happening? Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon just pledged a million pounds to help developing countries deal with loss and damage. Do you think other rich countries will follow her lead? And how significant is it that she did so?

HARJEET SINGH:Yes, Scotland has broken the taboo on loss and damage finance. When we refer to loss and damage finance, it means helping people who are currently facing the climate crisis, such as those who are being affected by flooding and storms. They need to rebuild their lives and their economies. This U.N. system does not provide a stream of financing for loss or damage. It has been a struggle for it for over 30 years. Vanuatu raised the issue in 1991 when he asked: How can we help countries affected by climate change or those who will be affected?

We are here. There is no source of funding and the United States has been blocking it since the beginning. It is not even on the agenda at this moment. COP. Because of our lobbying, the Scotland government was formed and realized that this was a huge gap. And that’s how they have pledged 1 million pounds, which is great. You know, the amount may not be that big, but it’s a major breakthrough and puts many developed countries to shame that you should have done it. People are suffering from a 1.1 degree temperature increase. Millions of people are getting displaced, and they’re not getting any help. So, this should definitely put pressure on other rich countries to follow suit, and that’s exactly what we are doing.

AMY GOODMAN:Harjeet, before we finish, we want to address migration and its relation to climate. Kumi Naidoo, the former head of Greenpeace and Amnesty International, talks about walls as the “climate wall.” A new report from Transnational Institute finds some of the world’s most polluting countries have spent over twice as much on border enforcement than on combating the climate crisis — the worst offenders: Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K. — additionally, the world’s largest fossil fuel companies employing the same companies that receive government contracts to militarize their borders. Harjeet, your response?

HARJEET SINGH:The reality is that the number of people who are being displaced by climate change is growing. The surveillance industry, Amy, is a potential business opportunity when policymakers are concerned about these numbers and need to come up with solutions so we can help them. And they are using it in a very divisive manner just to make money, whereas these people who are being displaced — and the majority of them stay in their own country, you know? A fraction of that population crosses national borders, and another fraction crosses international borders.

In those situations, we need to first talk about providing support to people so they don’t have cross-border crossings. Crossing borders can mean they are in real dire circumstances. And that’s why they leave everything and cross borders and take so much of risk. So, instead of, you know —

AMY GOODMAN:We have ten seconds.

HARJEET SINGH: — this particular crisis providing opportunity to the surveillance industry to make money, we all should be coming together and showing solidarity to these people who are getting displaced, and support them so that they can rebuild their lives.

AMY GOODMAN:Harjeet, we would like to thank you so very much, of Climate Action Network. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Keep safe.