A group of countries and regions led by Denmark and Costa Rica have pledged to phase out oil and gas production in a new initiative launched today at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow.
Wales, Ireland, France, Greenland, Québec and Sweden have joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) as “core” members, which requires winding down any existing projects by a Paris Agreement-aligned date and not issuing new licences.
California, Portugal, and New Zealand are associate members of the initiative, having adopted policies to restrict fossil fuel supply but not yet banned licensing of further developments.
Italy has signed up as a “friend” of the alliance, signalling its support for BOGA’s objectives but not taking action to cut fossil fuel production at this time.
None of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers, such as the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia, have joined, and the total oil production of those signed up makes up a small proportion globally. The UK hosts of the summit also shunned the effort.
But Denmark’s climate minister pointed out at the launch that his country was the EU’s largest oil producer as of 2019, and Greenland had “huge” reserves, enough to cover global oil demand, which it would now not be exploiting.
The initiative marks a stark contrast to the message other countries have been giving at the summit, with only two of them – Denmark and South Africa – mentioning the need to cut fossil fuel production in their official pavilions.
The subject of fossil fuels has long been taboo at UN climate summits, with the landmark Paris Agreement omitting any mention of them.
Campaigners, though, have welcomed the COP26 draft agreement released on Tuesday, which calls on countries to “accelerate” the phase-out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies. This wording, however, has met resistance from Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest oil exporter.
‘Beginning of the End of Oil and Gas’
Speaking at the launch on November 11, Costa Rica’s Environment Minister Andrea Meza said the world had been focusing for too long on demand for fossil fuels, and not supply.
“When we talk about how to accelerate action, we have been addressing the demand side. Yes it is important and we need to continue addressing it. But we cannot also leave the supply side.”
She called on countries to face up to the issue of oil and gas, which she said is a “difficult conversation” to have even in Costa Rica, which is not a producer but holds reserves.
Danish Climate Minister Dan Jørgensen said he hoped today would be the “beginning of the end of oil and gas”.
“There’s no future for oil and gas in a 1.5°C world. That is the bottom line of all major reports from the IPCC, IEA, UNEP.
“Just as the stone age did not end due to a lack of stone, the fossil era will not end because there’s no more oil left in the ground. It will end because governments decide to do the right thing.”
Acknowledging that his country was one of the largest oil producers in the EU, he said it had set a 2050 deadline for phasing out fossil fuel production and ending all new oil and gas licensing.
“Now we extend the challenge to others. We invite you to lead in the fight against climate change.”
He also said the alliance was “in close dialogue” with Scotland, where the summit is being held, and hoped to name new country members in the coming days.
Welsh Deputy Climate Minister Lee Waters noted it was the only UK country to join as a core member and Irish Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said his country would not be exploring for fossil fuels on its territory and its Strategic Investment Fund would not invest in any either.
Italy’s representative at the launch did not clarify exactly what its role as a friend of BOGA would entail but called the alliance a useful forum to create “synergy” and “exchange ideas”.
The BOGA news follows the launch yesterday of Parliamentarians’ Call for a Fossil Fuel Free Future, a campaign from 150 legislators initiated by 20 legislators from the Global South who are calling for a swift and just transition away from fossil fuels.
UK signatories included Green MP Caroline Lucas, Green MSPs Ross Greer and Mark Ruskell , Labour MPs Barry Gardiner and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, and Northern Ireland Assembly members for the Alliance Party, John Blair and Naomi Long.
France provided the most signatories – 16 – with the Phillipines in second place on 14.
COP26 Hosts Absent
UK campaigners welcomed the launch of the alliance but criticised the COP26 hosts for refusing to pledge their support.
Tessa Khan, director of campaign group Uplift, which has been opposing the planned Cambo oilfield in the North Sea, said: “The creation of this Alliance shows how far behind the UK has fallen when it comes to genuine climate leadership. While our neighbours power past fossil fuels, Boris Johnson is contemplating approving new oil and gas projects, like the Cambo field.
“The UK is now a climate laggard, not a climate leader while it continues to allow new oil and gas exploration and production in the North Sea and wastes billions of pounds of public money propping up the fossil fuel industry,” she added.
Carbon Tracker, a thinktank that analyses whether the world’s planned fossil fuel production is in line with the Paris Agreement, found that in order to keep the 1.5°C goal in reach, a significant number of oil projects must be suspended.
“We strongly welcome the launch of BOGA. Initiatives where governments permanently retire oil and gas licences is absolutely the right way forward,” said Mark Campanale, Carbon Tracker’s executive director.
When asked whether the UK would be joining the initiative, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “No other significant oil and gas producing nation has gone as far as the UK in supporting the sector’s gradual transition to a low carbon future, as demonstrated by our North Sea Transition Deal.
“While the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels continues to fall, there will continue to be ongoing but diminishing need for oil and gas over the coming years while we ramp up renewable energy capacity, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee,” they said.
The spokesperson said the country would continue collaborating with members of the alliance, including on ending public finance for overseas fossil fuel projects, a major focus of the COP26 hosts.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday said the UK would “look at what Denmark and Costa Rica are doing” when asked at a press conference whether the UK would be joining the alliance.