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Impact story: Putting fossil fuel supply on the global climate policy agenda

SEI provides practical guidance on how to phase down fossil fuel production under the Paris Agreement. At the 2017 Conference of the Parties (COP), SEI research on the topic – including a working paper, policy brief and journal article – helped inform country delegations about their options for tackling fossil fuel production under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Photo: Viktor Kiryanov / Unsplash.

Date published
8 May 2018

This impact story was originally published in our 2017 annual report.

Breaking the silence on fossil fuel production in the UNFCCC

To meet the Paris Agreement’s goal to keep global warming “well below” 2°C, the world must phase down the production – and not just the consumption – of coal, oil and natural gas.

But the phrase “fossil fuels” doesn’t appear in the text of the Paris Agreement, despite the established link between combustion of these fuels and climate change. Indeed, the topic of fossil fuel production has been sidelined in global negotiations for most of the 25-year history of the UNFCCC.

SEI has worked to change this since the inception of the Fossil Fuels and Climate Change Initiative in 2015. Researchers have produced analysis, publications, op-eds, and presentations – as well as convened a conference and side events – for the past three years, in an effort to help shift the discourse on fossil fuels and climate change at the UNFCCC’s annual COP.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations and other leaders at the One Planet Summit, an international event convening heads of state and business leaders to tackle climate change, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, Paris, France, 12 December 2017. Photo: Mike Bloomberg / Flickr.

The tide begins to turn

In November 2017, the Parties gathered in Bonn, Germany for COP23. SEI prepared and distributed several reports that outlined concrete steps to address fossil fuel supply under the UNFCCC.

The timing was right for a new supply-side focus. Prior to COP23, the incoming COP President, Prime Minister Bainimarama of Fiji, stated that the 1.5°C target “means shifting away from fossil fuels altogether.” In his opening statement, the UN Secretary General António Guterres called fossil fuel investments “bets on an unsustainable future that will place savings and societies at risk.” And the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group’s closing statement called for the planned 2018 Talanoa Dialogue to include “managing a phase-out of fossil fuels.”

“We are at a critical turning point as the climate debate is finally beginning to address the need to manage the inevitable decline in fossil fuel supply.”
Michael Lazarus, Senior Scientist, SEI

SEI’s work provided a toolkit for those interested in addressing fossil fuel supply to identify how they could do so within the UNFCCC.

Our publications emphasise tractable actions governments can take, in easily digestible formats that help audiences grasp ideas. For COP23, we issued a 32-page working paper that detailed the research, a 4-page policy brief that provided the key messages, and an op-ed that spread the message to a broader audience.

Political circumstances at COP23 – notably, the choice by the US Government to host an event promoting fossil fuel production – significantly raised the profile of fossil fuels in discussions. SEI experts were on hand to discuss the ideas and approaches with delegates, other NGOs, international institutions, and industry.

Concrete steps towards action

In the reports distributed at COP23, SEI offered clear and practical guidance on how Parties could address fossil fuel supply under the UNFCCC. Among SEI’s key points were that countries can include targets and actions related to fossil fuel supply in their Nationally Determined Contributions, and that they can plan for a phase-down of fossil fuels in their long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. SEI also outlines how the UNFCCC can track progress towards a phase-down through the global stocktake, as well as help countries by providing technical and capacity-building support.

SDG13

Climate action

To meet ambitious climate targets, we must transform our energy systems, how we use natural resources, and how we produce and consume goods and food. We must also adapt to climate impacts. SEI focuses on effective, equitable ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change for a safer climate for all.

SDG13 research connections. SDG13 is connected to SDGs 3, 7, 8, 9 and 12.

Connecting to the SDGs

The combustion of fossil fuels is the largest contributor of greenhouse gases, so reducing the world’s reliance on them is critical to tackling climate change.

SEI’s work on fossil fuel supply has helped uncover a promising new set of climate policy options, by bringing a focus on fossil fuel production in addition to consumption. We have shed light on new opportunities to break unsustainable development pathways, and ensure that communities aren’t left behind in a transition to a low-carbon economy.