A first-of-its-kind report published Wednesday warns that the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels worldwide—particularly in the rich countries most responsible for planet-warming carbon emissions—is imperiling every single sustainable development goal adopted by United Nations member states in 2015.
The 17 SDGs are far-reaching, ranging from ending global poverty to eliminating hunger to combating the climate emergency, and achieving them by 2030 would require ambitious and coordinated action on a global scale.
“Fossil fuel addiction poisons every earnest attempt we make to tackle the sustainable development and climate agendas.”
But world leaders’ persistent commitment to fossil fuels, which the new report dubs an “addiction,” is rendering such action impossible by “amplifying the impacts of climate change and placing the health and stability of both natural and human systems at risk.”
“Fossil fuel addiction poisons every earnest attempt we make to tackle the sustainable development and climate agendas,” said Tzeporah Berman, chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative. “Despite a robust pile of evidence that fossil fuels are core to our problems, governments are not moving and international cooperation is lacking.”
Authored by researchers at the University of Sussex on behalf of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and other civil society organizations, the report makes use of more than 400 academic articles and advocacy group reports to closely examine for the first time the threat that fossil fuels pose to each of the SDGs.
By 2030, the report notes, the climate crisis could push 122 million more people into extreme poverty worldwide by intensifying extreme weather events, which often cause mass destruction and displacement. Yet globally, “governments spend three times more money on fuel subsidies than the annual amount needed to eradicate poverty,” the researchers observe.
Fossil fuels are also undermining global efforts to combat hunger, which has spiked during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Increases in global temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, extreme weather events, and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations from burning fossil fuels will reduce the yields of key crops,” the report states. “Fossil fuel production, and fossil fuel corporations’ carbon offset schemes, are pulling vast amounts of land away from productive uses, such as agriculture.”
And on down the list. Promoting good health and well-being, guaranteeing quality education for all, achieving gender equality, ensuring clean water and sanitation, transitioning to renewable energy, and securing lasting peace are all tasks that a fossil fuel-dependent status quo has made unachievable, the new report warns.
“By 2030, humanity needs to have halved global emissions, while at the same time achieving all 17 SDGs,” said report co-author Freddie Daley, a research associate at the University of Sussex. “This is an impossible endeavor without concerted global efforts to constrain and phase out fossil fuel production in a fast, fair, and equitable manner, with the wealthy nations that continue to benefit from fossil-fueled economic growth leading the way.”
“This research lays out the incompatibility of sustainable development and fossil fuels—and what is at stake if we fail to address unchecked fossil fuel expansion,” Daley added.
To dramatically change course and put the world on a path toward achieving sustainable development objectives, the report recommends an entirely new international framework, such as a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty with “binding commitments that constrain fossil fuel production globally.”
Such a treaty, the researchers suggest, should include three prongs:
- Non-proliferation. End new exploration and production by issuing a worldwide moratorium on the extraction of new fossil fuel reserves.
- Equitable Phase Down. Commit countries to phase down production in existing projects, in line with equity and the 1.5°C global temperature goal.
- Accelerate a Fair Transition. Provide finance and technological assistance to aid those most dependent on fossil fuel production to climate change to diversify their economies and move away from fossil fuels, scale up access to renewable energy and ensure a just transition for all.
“Every day that we burn fossil fuels is one more day that we’re undermining these goals for a sustainable, livable planet,” Jean Su, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
“The first step to fighting the extinction of countless species and the scourge of global poverty is to turn off the spigot of dangerous fossil fuels,” Su added. “That’s the only way we can build a just, peaceful future that protects the dignity of humanity and all life on Earth.”