By Sarah Greene, Balsillie School of International Affairs.

In the company of heads of state, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environmental Program, lead negotiators, climate activists, the press, lead researchers and those alike, I bore witness to a historic event amid the climate negotiations in Dubai. President Gustavo Petro of Colombia announced his state’s formal endorsement of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty; a growing global effort proposing a mechanism to effectively and equitably ensure safer amounts of fossil fuels stay in the ground. The energy in the room was inspiring as Colombia became not only the first Latin American state to join the bloc of signatories seeking a negotiated mandate for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, but also the largest fossil fuel producer to date to endorse the Treaty proposal.  

To date, global governance institutions and frameworks coordinating decarbonization efforts, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have primarily focused on demand-side emission reductions, mainly via carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes – holding states responsible for greenhouse gases emitted primarily in their own territory. Since its inception in 1992, the UNFCCC has focused entirely on controlling emissions where fossil fuels are consumed. This has remained silent until recently on fossil fuel supply, leaving the critical pathways for curbing emissions associated with fossil fuel extraction to the market.  

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During COP28, communities, organizations, and a growing number of states worldwide are advancing the need to cease fossil fuel production to preserve critical earth systems and communities' welfare, health and sovereignty. Following the footsteps of Timor-Leste, during the first week of COP28, Colombia joined the coalition of signatories, including Vanuatu, Tuvalu, and Fiji, spearheading a vital diplomatic effort to promote international cooperation and technical support for a fossil fuel phase-out.  

States like Colombia are responding to the clear and growing message that this approach has yet to result in the necessary emission reductions and has delayed an essential and prominent vein in climate action: phasing out fossil fuel supply. The picture Petro gave is clear – we must listen to science, and fossil fuels must go.  

How could the president of our country contemplate such economic suicide, given our dependence on oil and carbon? Being here means attempting to prevent a suicide… the death of all living things, the interconnected extinction of everything that exists – an omnicide... so, this is not economic suicide. What we are advocating for here is to prevent the homicide of planet Earth.

President Gustavo Petro

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Colombia is vital in rejuvenating global energy and climate policy for a Paris-aligned world – confirming the growing momentum to address the threat posed by fossil fuel production.  The following vital steps would be to understand the Treaty-supportive conditions, this could inform the adoption of policy innovations in other jurisdictions, particularly others that are heavily reliant on fossil fuel production like Canada, to develop a more coherent understanding of how and why states pursue and sign on to these transformative global efforts. Colombia and other state signatories for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty are charting new terrain in climate policy; this approach is fast developing into a worldwide governance norm that cannot help but influence other major fossil fuel producers. Setting out to pass its anti-fracking bill that commits to banning the exploration and exploitation of unconventional oil and gas resources and stopping fracking pilot projects and the development of offshore fields. Colombia can take a vital first step in translating its global energy transition and climate leadership to the national level. 

Colombia sets an important precedent in supply-side policy focused on keeping fossil fuels underground. Colombia is essential to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty with its notable fossil fuel reserves. With its oil and gas production and associated greenhouse gas emissions significant on the global scale, it demonstrates to other fossil fuel-reliant states how to reform policy to align with climate objectives. By joining the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, Colombia seeks to make a sizeable difference to the climate through its signaling value and ability to inspire and show the way for the rest of the world how to halt fossil fuel use. 

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The planet and humanity depend on decisive and collective action to stop the proliferation of fossil fuels, and Colombia is taking a crucial step in the right direction, which other countries need to follow.

President Gustavo Petro

Find out more about our COP28 delegations here.