As the world’s most powerful leaders prepare to come together for the President Joe Biden’s virtual climate summit, the Dalai Lama and 100 other Nobel Prize winners have a clear message for them: Keep fossil fuels in the ground.
The 101 Nobel laureates have written to Biden and those attending the meeting on Thursday, urging them to take concrete steps to phase out fossil fuels in order to prevent catastrophic climate change.
“The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for almost 80% of carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution,” the letter, shared exclusively with CNN, says, adding: “Allowing the continued expansion of this industry is unconscionable.”
The signatories make it clear they believe it is up to the summit’s attendees to act. “Leaders, not industry, hold the power and have the moral responsibility to take bold actions to address this crisis,” they say.
The laureates outline three steps they say world leaders need to take: put an end to any further expansion of oil, gas and coal production; phase out existing fossil fuel production in a manner that is fair and equitable and invest heavily in the global transition to renewable energy.
“In addition to being the leading source of emissions, there are local pollution, environmental and health costs associated with extracting, refining, transporting and burning fossil fuels. These costs are often paid by Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities,” the letter says.
The letter, which was coordinated by the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, has been signed by some of the world’s most distinguished scientists, peace makers and writers.
The long list of signatories includes Jody Williams, who was awarded the 1997 Peace Prize for her campaign to ban landmines; women’s rights activist and 2011 Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee; Frances H. Arnold who was awarded the 2018 chemistry prize for performing the first-ever “directed evolution” of enzymes; Harald zur Hausen, the 2008 medicines and physiology laureate who discovered that human papilloma virus causes cervical cancer; the 2005 literature laureate Elfriede Jelinek, and the 2010 Economics laureate Christopher Pissarides.
Calls for fossil fuels to be phased out are not new. The United Nations says such a step is necessary if humanity wants to stop catastrophic man-made climate change.
The goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord is to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
To achieve that, the world needs to cut fossil fuel production by roughly 6% every year between 2020 and 2030, yet current projections show an annual increase of 2%, according to the UN Production Gap report.
The UN said last year that the world is on track to produce 120% more fossil fuels by 2030 than scientists say is permissible to keep the planet from warming by more than 1.5°C, and 50% more than we can burn to keep warming to 2°C.
And while the pandemic caused global greenhouse gas emissions to drop slightly last year, a new report published this week by the International Energy Agency said the bounce back is already happening.
The report estimates that carbon emissions from energy use are on track to spike by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021, as heavy coal consumption in Asia, and in China in particular, outweighs rapid growth in renewable sources. That would be the second largest annual increase in energy-related emissions in history.
The authors of the letter say that efforts to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement and to reduce demand for fossil fuels will be undermined if supply continues to grow.
“The fossil fuel system is global and requires a global solution – a solution the Leaders’ Climate Summit must work towards,” they wrote. “And the first step is to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”