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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Tonga joins call for Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty negotiation

The Kingdom of Tonga on Friday, May 12, 2023, formally called on all Pacific nations to join a bloc of governments who are seeking a negotiating mandate to develop a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, a proposed framework to manage a global just transition away from coal, oil and gas production. The announcement was welcomed by the Government of Vanuatu, who together with Tuvalu co-hosted a Ministerial meeting in March 2023 that led to the Port Vila Call for a Just Transition for a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific.

Hu'akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni
Prime Minister of Tonga, Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni

The Prime Minister of Tonga, Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni, made the official announcement at the Fifth Pacific Regional Energy and Transport Ministers’ Meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, where delegations from Pacific Island Countries discussed how to accelerate the decarbonisation of the region’s energy and transport sectors.

The public statement from Tonga is said to be another major step towards the negotiation of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and appears to reaffirm the commitment made just weeks ago when a bloc of six Pacific nations launched the Port Vila Call. The major diplomatic statement launched by Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Niue calls for action from Pacific and global leaders to transition to a “Fossil Fuel Free Pacific” as soon as possible, and to spearhead the global phase out of coal, oil and gas production through key initiatives, including through leading the creation of a global alliance to negotiate a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Sovaleni said: “Climate change is the single greatest threat to Tonga and Pacific Island countries, and Tonga therefore stands together with our neighbours in calling for urgent action to combat the root cause of this crisis. In March we joined a bloc of Pacific countries making an ambitious call for a global phase out of fossil fuels, and a just transition from fossil fuels in the Pacific, the Port Vila Call. Now we urge all Pacific governments to join Tonga, Vanuatu and Tuvalu in publicly calling for the negotiation of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. A new global treaty can provide the framework for finance, technological support and knowledge sharing needed to ensure a just transition away from coal, oil and gas across the Pacific and in the world.”

Tonga was ranked as the third most at-risk country for climate impacts like cyclones, floods and sea level rise in the 2021 World Risk Report. In 2018, Tonga was hit by Cyclone Gita, the most intense tropical cyclone to impact the country since reliable records began, leading to widespread destruction throughout the island kingdom. The total estimated damage cost Tonga over USD $250 billion in damages, and shows the increasing difficulty for small island states like Tonga to recover quickly from the severity and frequency of climate disasters.

Collectively, all 14 Pacific Island Developing States contribute just 0.23% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while being the most vulnerable to their impacts. In contrast, the 15 largest emitters of fossil fuels – a group which includes Australia – together contribute more than 70% of global emissions while claiming to be climate leaders.

The vast majority of Pacific nations do not produce oil, gas or coal, the substances responsible for 86% of carbon emissions in the last decade. Yet, the region is heavily dependent on imported diesel and petrol for transportation, as well as basic needs and services. This reliance on fossil fuels, whose prices are so volatile, poses severe risks not only to their lives and livelihoods, but also to their economies.

A full decarbonisation of Pacific economies will lead to benefits that go beyond the obvious climate mitigation gains, including in the areas of public health, energy accessibility and economic development, disaster resilience, political independence, and global climate mitigation advocacy. But a genuine and full energy transition in the region will not be possible without major emitters from the Global North honouring their historic responsibility and their pledges by providing substantial climate finance, expertise and technology to support fossil fuels dependent countries to implement a just transition away from coal, oil and gas.

Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu’s Minister of Climate Change, said: “We welcome Tonga’s support for the Port Vila Call and commend them for joining our public call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is a testament to our region’s resilience, strength and leadership. Here in Vanuatu, we have just witnessed how climate change is increasing the destructive power of tropical cyclones and storm surges. The week before the Port Vila Call, our country was struck by two category four cyclones. We can no longer afford to ignore the impacts.

“This is no longer a scientific prediction on paper – it is a harsh, daily reality for us now. We know we cannot meet the goals of the Paris Agreement without international cooperation to explicitly tackle all fossil fuels head on. It is time for world leaders to end the expansion of new fossil fuels and agree to a global plan and timeline to phase out coal, oil and gas production in a way that is fair, fast and financed. A glaring gap exists, but it can be filled by a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Seve Paeniu, Tuvalu’s Minister of Finance, said: “Historically, Pacific nations have been showing undeniable leadership in the global climate debate. Only by working together can we accelerate a truly equitable global transition to clean energy that is fair for our region and our communities. There are no more excuses, world leaders must pick a side: they can capitulate to the lobbying of the oil and gas industry, or they can join Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Tonga and other Pacific nations in supporting the negotiation of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Tzeporah Berman, Chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said: “Tonga’s announcement reflects once again the essential role the Pacific have been playing for decades in leading global climate policy, and they are now the first to stand up against the power of the fossil fuel lobby and call for governments to join them in negotiating a treaty to manage a global just transition away from coal, oil and gas.”

Joseph Sikulu, Pacific Regional Managing Director of 350.org, said: “As a Tongan, it fills me with great pride to see our government step into the forefront of the climate change fight and continue the resounding call to leadership coming from our region. As Pacific Climate Warriors, it fills us with hope to see our leaders continue to show the world that true climate leadership is a commitment to do what is needed to transition our world and economies away from fossil fuels and keep us on a pathway to below 1.5 degrees of warming.

“In Tonga we say, ‘Ko Tonga moʻunga ki he loto’ meaning, ‘in Tonga our mountains are within, our strength-hold is our heart’ and we thank the Tongan Government for standing up for our people and living this. Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Tonga have stepped up to the plate and now it is time for world leaders to decide if they want to be a part of the solution or fuel our destruction for the sake of profits.”

The growing group of nation states supporting the negotiation of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty are joined by the World Health Organisation, the European Parliament and 85 cities and subnational governments globally, including Sydney, Kolkata, London, Lima and Barcelona. A network of over 2,000 civil society organisations representing thousands more individuals have joined a global campaign aiming to secure a negotiating mandate for a new treaty on phasing out fossil fuels in the near future.

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