Colombia Joins Treaty Initiative To Stop Fossil Fuel Extraction

Colombian President Gustavo Petro stands at a podium with the United Nations and United Arab Emirates flags behind him.
El Espectador
United Arab Emirates
Colombia Joins Treaty Initiative To Stop Fossil Fuel Extraction

President of Colombia Gustavo Petro has a busy agenda at COP28. On Saturday morning in Dubai, the government presented a new “investment portfolio” to achieve climate action and a just energy transition in the Colombia.

The president invited developed countries, philanthropists and investors to learn about Colombia's proposals to transition away from fossil fuels. He also asked them to support a “biodiversity economy.”

The country is heavily dependent on fossil fuels such as oil and coal. And nature tourism, the energy transition, conservation, ecosystem restoration and adaptation to climate change—he told them—cost a lot of money. “This is an economic vulnerability. It is a contradiction that we must resolve. And what we find in the short term is the beauty of Colombia. Its natural diversity,” he added.

A couple of hours later, at a table with the heads of state of small island countries, the director of the World Health Organization and representatives of Latin American Indigenous peoples, Petro made another announcement: Colombia joined efforts for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The country became the first in Latin America, the tenth in the world, and the largest producer of coal and gas to join the bloc of nations that want to address the main cause of the climate crisis.

“Oil, coal and gas are responsible for more than 86% of greenhouse gas emissions in the environment,” Alex Rafalowicz, director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, explained to El Espectador. “The idea is to create a process, complementary to COP28 and the Paris Agreement, where countries that want to join have other alternatives and paths to extraction.”

Among the pillars of the treaty, which they hope to begin negotiating in 2024, is putting an end to the exploration and expansion of new fossil fuel reserves. An idea that the Colombian government has proposed repeatedly and that has been the root of great debates.

In the past, the statements of the former minister of mines and energy, Irene Vélez, about stopping new coal and oil exploration contracts in the country, generated tensions within the government cabinet, ministries and agencies, and especially with the treasury, then headed by former minister José Antonio Ocampo.

But at COP28, the announcement felt different. The Minister of Mines Andrés Camacho, Minister of Finance Ricardo Bonilla, and Minister of Environment Susana Muhamad, all sat in the front row of the room, supporting him.

“It is a paradox that at this table, where the first line of the peoples that may disappear due to the climate crisis, these Pacific islands, is also the country that I represent. Because Colombia depends on the extraction of coal and oil,” said the president in Dubai.

“There, in my own country, they will say that how come I can think of it, that it is producing economic suicide. But, on the contrary, it is trying to stop an 'ommicide'. The integral death of everything that exists. As president of Colombia, my position is on the side of life,” he added.

As the Minister of Mines and Energy Andrés Camacho explained to El Espectador, “we are on a path of energy transition and the heart of the transformation has to do with this. Our purpose is not to continue increasing the extractive frontier. It is a call to the world to design a route for non-proliferation, and our government, as a whole, is involved in this issue.”

Also at the event were Jausea Natano, the prime minister of Tuvalu; Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda; Ralph Regenvanu, the climate minister of Vanuatu; Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the World Health Organization; and Elaine Shajian, a representative from the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

Vanuatu, a country made up of small islands located in the South Pacific, was the first to join the treaty at COP27. “We will celebrate 10 years of the Paris Agreement, and the lessons we are left with are that ambition has not been enough. Responsibility and accountability, either,” said his climate minister. “We no longer have time to sit and wait. Our islands are sinking. We know what is creating climate change and what is needed to stop it,” said the prime minister of Tuvalu, Jeusea Natano.

What is the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty?

The treaty, as Alex Rafalowicz, director of the initiative, explains, is a campaign that began three years ago, as a complement to the Paris Agreement, which never mentioned the words "oil, gas and coal."

“It is unthinkable that the climate negotiations do not mention these products,” he insisted.

Although “it is still under construction,” the initiative is based on three main pillars. The first pillar is to put an end to new exploration and production of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.

The second is to make that a progressive and equitable transition. “The end of fossil fuel production must begin immediately by regulating the supply of fossil fuels, establishing limits on extraction, eliminating subsidies for their production, dismantling the necessary infrastructure, supporting safer and more sustainable alternatives,” says the initiative.

The third is a just transition, which means “collective actions that allow economic diversification, the promotion of renewable energies and low-carbon solutions.” These are all issues that the Petro government promoted this Saturday from Dubai.

However, it is still unclear when these pillars would begin to be fulfilled. The date for the transition, Rafalowicz explained, “would have to be defined in the negotiations.” There, the mechanisms would also be defined so that the countries that participate would receive incentives. The International Energy Agency has assured in its latest reports that global demand for fossil fuels could reach its peak before 2030 and begin to fall.

What has to happen for the treaty to be formalized? To begin with, the framework for these negotiations must be developed: the areas of discussion, the format of the negotiations, the mechanisms of participation and so on. “What we are looking for is the group of leaders who are willing to develop that framework. And we hope that in 2024, that group of which Colombia is now a part will define these aspects. The treaty could happen inside the UN or outside,” explains the director of the initiative.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Change Media Partnership 2023, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was first published in El Espectador on December 2, 2023.

Banner image: The President of Colombia Gustavo Petro delivers a speech on December 1st at the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates / Credit: Neville Hopwood for COP 28.

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