GLASGOW, SCOTLAND — Costa Rica and Denmark have a new plan to save the world: Stop extracting fossil fuels. In a landmark announcement at United Nations climate talks on Thursday, the countries unveiled the initial signatories of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance.
The premise of the alliance is simple. Countries must create a plan to end fossil fuel extraction. There is no better substitute for ending the climate crisis. Extracting and burning oil, gas, and coal have unleashed catastrophic changes to the biosphere that sustains us. Ending their use as drivers of the global economy is a way to ensure no more damage is done.
“We really need to accelerate action,” Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica Andrea Meza said at a press conference. “We’ve been addressing the demand side. ... But we cannot also leave the supply side there. We need to have this conversation ... which we know is not an easy discussion.”
The duo did a soft launch over the summer and have been working to rally support. On Thursday, they unveiled the first members, which include France, Ireland, Sweden, Wales, Greenland, and Québec as full members. California—which has a long history of extraction and recently suffered a major oil spill—and New Zealand have joined as “associates” who are ending-extraction-curious but have yet to come up with full plans to no longer pull oil, gas, and coal out of the ground. And Italy is listed as a friend.
“In order to begin healing from the climate catastrophe we have created we must first stop digging our way to destruction,” Mohamed Adow, the founder and head of Power Shift Africa, said in a statement. “Ending our extraction and use of oil and gas is a necessary step in ending our self-harming addiction to fossil fuels.”
A steady drumbeat of scientific reports have shown why ending the fossil fuel era is vital to humanity. The International Energy Agency found new oil and gas exploration must end by 2022 (yes, next year) to have a shot at keeping global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels. A 2018 report by the world’s top climate scientists found the world will need to curtail coal use by 78%, oil use by 37%, and gas use 25% by 2030 to have a shot at that target as well.
That threshold is crucial to the fate of small island states that would be swallowed by rising seas—but it’s also central to protecting everyone on Earth. The past year alone has unleashed climate horrors around the world from fires to floods, showing nowhere is safe from global warming. Yet world leaders have failed to step up to the plate until now.
While there are certainly demand-side approaches, including more widespread use of electric vehicles, public transit, and biking, curtailing the supply of our demise is a pretty damn good way to start. The alliance is significant as a world-first. But it also shows how much work there is to be done.
Major fossil fuel producers like the U.S., Russia, and many nations throughout the Middle East are nowhere to be found. Instead, those countries—and others throughout the world—have focused on nebulous emissions cuts and promises of net zero. The latter offers wiggle room for countries to keep producing and using fossil fuels based on plans to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at some point down the road. Those technologies currently exist, but at nowhere remotely near the scale needed. The U.S. is still leasing oil and gas permits while Russia’s state-owned gas company is planning a ginormous gas terminal in the Arctic. And counties in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates... well, their economies are built on oil. Still, the countries here represent a new vanguard and the commitments aren’t inconsequential.
“My own country Denmark, when we made the decision in 2019, we were the biggest oil producer in the EU,” Danish Climate Minister Dan Jørgensen said. “Other countries on the list that have substantial production. And we need to look at the reserves; Greenland has huge reserves. It’s not without meaning. Having said all that, this is the first step.”
Twenty countries also pledged at the talks to stop fossil fuel financing abroad—but not at home, which is a little oversight. In a separate text on Wednesday, documents tied to the negotiations between all countries called for phasing out coal and ending fossil fuel subsidies. That’s almost surely the first time fossil fuels have ever appeared in even draft documents at international climate talks. That may seem weird given that this is year 26 of talks, and it’s been quite clear the whole time that fossil fuels are the problem. But here we are.
In a separate announcement on Thursday, a number of activists with Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement called for the world to sign a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, another mechanism to end extraction. At least some countries and a growing segment of civil society are ready to step up to the challenge of ending fossil fuels.
“The launch of BOGA marks a departure from decades of international climate policy in which the question of aligning the production of fossil fuels with carbon budgets was ignored,” Tzeporah Berman, chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said in a statement.
Whether the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance and Fridays for Future signatories are enough to ensure the final agreement in Glasgow mentions fossil fuels, let alone get strengthens language around ending their use, is enough to move the dial remains to be seen. But make no mistake that this is a watershed moment.
Update, 11/11/21 8:21 a.m. ET: This post has been updated with more details from the launch press conference.