A new report finds that unchecked production and consumption of oil, coal, and gas are undermining economic growth and incompatible with poverty alleviation around the world. It also presents a strong counter-narrative for fossil fuel industry claims about how their operations help people and improve their livelihoods.
The report “Fuelling Failure” is a compilation of the research of many institutions and NGOs. It shows that the impact of fossil fuels on climate change has far-reaching consequences. The report shows how the fossil fuel industry and its products are destroying every one of the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals, which were agreed upon by all UN member countries, aim to improve education and health, reduce inequality, and increase economic development around the world.
The authors also note that, from 2012 to 2018, 8.7 million people died prematurely due to air pollution caused by fossil fuels.
* By 2030, climate change will see 122 million people in extreme poverty, due to mainly fossil fuel emissions. But governments spend three times more on fossil fuel subsidies that they do on poverty eradication. This, according to the report, is in violation of UN SDG 1, “No Poverty”.
*Fossil fuel activities regularly contaminate water supplies, leading inevitably to an increase in the number of cases. Climate impacts will increase water insecurity, and lead to more disease outbreaks. The authors claim that this is against UN SDG 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation”.
* High levels of conflict are often associated with a greater amount of oil and gas resources. Russia is currently waging a war of annihilation against Ukraine. However, it expects to earn $321 billion this year from fossil fuel sales. Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies have used the crisis to increase their profits. According to the authors, this puts fossil fuel extraction in conflict with UN SDG 16. “Peace, justice and strong institutions.”
Freddie Daley (a University of Sussex researcher) told me that the findings showed why fossil fuels are limiting global development and also indicated the need for a new international commitment in order to reduce fossil fuel production.
Daley stated that the research shows incompatibility between sustainable development and fossil fuels. He also pointed out what could happen if unchecked growth of fossil fuels continues to be ignored. All policy must now be understood by governments. It’s more than just about energy and transport. It’s also about health, the natural world, children’s education, and the building blocks of our lives. It is necessary to have a better understanding of the magnitude of the problem.
This is true both in rich countries and in over-exploited countries of the Global South, Daley stated. Daley cited the U.K. as an example of governments not responding appropriately to climate and development crises. New research by thinktank E3G revealed that the government could have used tax relief to help insulate two millions British homes.
He stated that there was a lack in “joined-up thinking” in government policy.
In the developing world, however, fossil fuels have been more of a curse that a blessing for countries hoping to escape poverty. The East African Crude Oil Pipeline is one example. It is being constructed by TotalEnergies in France and is expected to displace thousands of people. Daley also highlighted the Cabo Delgado oil field in Mozambique. There, multinational fossil fuel companies and major banks plan to extract some 10 trillion cubic feet natural gas. The project will produce LNG for Europe and Asia, but Mozambique’s residents will not be benefited. Hundreds of people have been forced from their homes to make way for it. The Mozambique government diverts funds to build and maintain this project’s infrastructure. This money could be used for renewable energy development and education.
This is not the image that oil and gas CEOs or petrostate leaders will paint at industry events like CERAWeek. There, the dominant narrative about fossil fuels being good for development is clear. Daley stated that fossil fuel companies have hijacked the language of economic growth to support expanded oil and gas infrastructure.
Mohamed Adow, director at Power Shift Africa (Kenya-based NGO), explained why the industry narrative was false in his remarks about the Fuelling Failure report.
“The fossil fuel industry is built on servicing extractive systems and has left communities–especially those in Africa–vulnerable to socio-economic and ecological traps, shocks and underdevelopment,” Adow said. “Fossilfuels are causing a lot of problems for sustainable development. They also fuel extreme weather events that can have devastating consequences on the lives and livelihoods of our people. We need to see a swift and urgent shift away fossil fuel investments. This will allow us to finance more people-centred, community owned, distributed, accessible, resilient and affordable renewable energy systems. This is especially important for Africa’s most vulnerable segments.
Lidy Nacpil is coordinator of the NGO alliance, the Asian Peoples Movement On Debt and Development. She stated that the report clearly shows that fossil fuels can be used as weapons of mass destruction. Global South: The extraction and burning fossil fuels poses a threat to millions of lives due to devastating climate impacts. Dependence on fossil fuels also locks countries into growing cycles of debt that fuel poverty, undermines education, jobs, and threatens health.
The report also highlights the ongoing and severe climate impacts caused by the burning fossil fuels in areas that have done little to contribute to global warming. ActionAid International’s global leader on climate justice, Teresa Anderson, stated that climate change was causing millions of people to be in a precarious position. She stated that the drought in Horn of Africa has put 20 million people at risk of starvation. “Farmers can’t predict the timing of rains and are having difficulty growing enough food for their families. Now we are faced with the dilemma of choosing between food security and fossil fuels, as an overheated planet will not be capable of feeding humanity.
The report calls for an international set of binding, international commitments to reduce global fossil fuel production. This is in order to address both the present and future harms caused by fossil fuels. The authors conclude that the 2015 Paris climate accord is not encouraging the necessary action to reduce hydrocarbons use.
Daley stated, “I believe we have something with teeth that can address greenhouse gas emissions from where they are coming. Not just vague commitments to reduce emissions at some future point.” We need policies and a framework that can address the root cause of the problem, which is the fossil fuel production.
Daley stated that a well-drafted agreement could be used to reduce the use of fossil fuels and provide “developmental space” for exploited countries to support transition workers in more sustainable jobs.
He stated that the most important thing was to agree on a strong agreement. This would put the responsibility of funding and supporting the global transition away fossil fuels on the shoulders of rich countries.
Daley stated that “there needs to be carrots and sticks.” It’s not going be easy, it won’t always be simple, but the richest nations need to get up and take action.