The landmark Paris climate agreement in 2015 talks about reducing emissions, but never actually mentions fossil fuels, despite the fact that they’re the main cause of the problem: Coal, oil, and gas caused 86% of CO2 emissions in the past decade, according to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. At the global climate talks happening now, the fossil fuel industry has hundreds of lobbyists, a larger delegation than any country, in fact. But this week, the mention of “fossil fuels” finally showed up in a draft of the final agreement, with calls for phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies. And now, a smaller group of countries say they’ll go much farther and make plans to end fossil fuel extraction completely.
The group, called the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, is led by Denmark and Costa Rica. “We hope that today will mark the beginning of the end of oil and gas,” Dan Jorgensen, Danish minister for climate, energy, and utilities and a cochair of the alliance, said today at an event announcing the new alliance. France, Ireland, Sweden, Wales, Greenland, and the Canadian province, Quebec, are core members. The state of California, which is a major oil producer, is an “associate member,” along with New Zealand and Portugal, but hasn’t yet committed to end production.
To have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) and avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change, the International Energy Association has said that new oil and gas exploration needs to stop now. Another recent study said that around 60% of existing oil and gas reserves can’t be burned if the world is going to succeed in limiting warming. But most countries that claim to be taking climate action are doing little to stem the flow of fossil fuels. The Biden administration has plans to open up more public land for oil and gas drilling. The U.S. and several other countries have pledged to end funding for fossil fuels abroad but haven’t taken the same action within their own borders.
The countries in the new alliance aren’t major fossil fuel producers, although Denmark is one of the the largest oil producers in the European Union. They also aren’t all acting immediately—Denmark has a 2050 deadline for ending oil production and canceling leases—but it’s a sign that the tide is turning. “The fossil era must come to an end,” Jorgensen said. “It will end because governments decide to do the right thing.”