Anti-fossil fuel norms can be (and have been) used by governments and civil society organizations to advance political mobilization against the fossil fuel industry and position themselves as climate leaders. One strength of anti-fossil fuel norms is that they enable unity and international political momentum around simple messages. However, this simplicity can result in national and international equity issues being overlooked, because the norm does not always account for the distributional impacts of shifting away from fossil fuels.

Actors that promote anti-fossil fuel norms need to consider the complex ways in which marginalized communities, particularly in the Global South, are locked into fossil fuel production and use. The development of norms that call for the phase-out of fossil fuels should go hand-in-hand with the development of norms that acknowledge the need to meet lower-income countries’ development and energy needs and the need for international support to enable low-income countries to achieve this transition.

The researchers discuss and make recommendations based on 14 interviews conducted with experts from civil society, academia and government organizations involved in international climate policy. They use the interview data to form insights that expand on the existing literature and shed light on recent developments in international climate policy debates.

The researchers focussed on four key norms:

  • phase-out of coal-fired power
  • phase-out of oil and gas
  • end public financing for fossil fuels
  • fossil fuel subsidy reform.

They find that each norm is well placed to contribute significantly to the rapid phase down of fossil fuels. However, there is a risk that anti-fossil fuel norms do not account for the distributional impacts of shifting away from fossil fuels, which means they may have unintended and inequitable consequences, unless action is taken to avoid adverse effects.

Correction: This publication was updated 20 January 2023 to acknowledge that it is a deliverable of MISTRA Geopolitics, which is funded by MISTRA – the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research.