N.L. academics join call for international treaty to end fossil fuel production

·3 min read
Two professors say it's time for the Newfoundland and Labrador economy to transition away from the fossil fuel industry. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Two professors say it's time for the Newfoundland and Labrador economy to transition away from the fossil fuel industry. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

A new open letter signed by thousands of academics, including some from Newfoundland and Labrador, is calling on governments around the world to adopt a treaty to move away from fossil fuels.

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty would end exploration and production of oil, gas and coal, while creating "a transformational plan" to support economies dependent on fossil fuels and ensure access to renewable energy.

The treaty is, in part, a response to the August report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that fossil fuel emissions are directly responsible for 1.1 C of warming since the 19th century.

A wide range of individuals, organizations and governments have endorsed the treaty, from the Dalai Lama to the City of Toronto.

Angela Carter, a University of Waterloo political science professor who resides in Conception Bay South, is one of the academics who signed the open letter. Carter, who researches environmental policy, said the evidence is clear that fossil fuels are the lead cause of climate change.

"The climate crisis is intensifying in a terrifying way," she said in an interview with The St. John's Morning Show. "The effort here with this treaty is to underscore in a global way that we've got to get to the heart of the problem, and that means starting to wind down that sector."

The treaty echoes the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which saw 191 countries agree to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon technology.

Carter said individual actions to help slow global warming — like driving an electric vehicle or recycling — are important, but "structural" actions are needed in order to curb global warming.

CBC
CBC

"That means changing really fundamental aspects of our economy and our energy systems," she said.

Although Newfoundland and Labrador is a relatively small contributor to global emissions compared to other parts of the globe, Carter said that fact does not let the province's oil and gas industry off the hook.

"If you have a very close look at Newfoundland and Labrador's emissions profile, what we see is that we are contributing millions of tons every year from the production of those offshore sites," she said.

For Carter, there's no such thing as clean oil.

"We need to toss that language aside and really get to work together here as a community in Newfoundland and Labrador to spark our own just transition," she said.

Impact of climate change has already begun

Many Canadians are already feeling the effects of climate change.

Forest fires swept across British Columbia this summer, and the small town of Lytton reached the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada — a heatwave that researchers say would not have been possible without climate change.

Hurricanes will begin finding their way inland more frequently, while researchers have found that one in five deaths worldwide are linked to air pollution caused by fossil fuels.

Sarah Martin, a Memorial University political science professor who also signed the letter, said climate change is also having a "huge" impact on global food systems.

Martin said the agricultural industry both exacerbates, and is affected by, climate change. She said the industry has become reliant on fossil fuels, but also has to deal with an increasingly unstable climate that is leading to droughts.

Adam Walsh/CBC
Adam Walsh/CBC

Martin pointed to "regenerative agroecology systems" as the solution to the current, unsustainable agricultural practices, pointing to "hundreds" of ways to grow food that do not rely on fossil fuels.

But those methods need more government support, she said.

"We need to move to a just transition in order to protect not only people's health, but also ... to be able to grow food in a healthy way that is sustainable over the long-term," she said.

The open letter is being presented at the United Nations General Assembly, which began on Wednesday.

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