Vanuatu makes bold call for global treaty to phase out fossil fuels

<span>Photograph: Caitlin Ochs/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Caitlin Ochs/Reuters

The Pacific island of Vanuatu has called for a first-of-its-kind global treaty to phase out the use of fossil fuels in a bold public call at the UN general assembly.

Speaking in New York on Saturday, Nikenike Vurobaravu, the Vanuatuan president, urged countries to join his country’s call for a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty.

Related: Pope calls for courage in halting use of fossil fuels to protect planet

“We call for the development of a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty to phase down coal, oil and gas production in line with 1.5C and enable a global just transition for every worker, community and nation with fossil fuel dependence,” he said.

Urging others to join his call, which would make ecocide punishable by the international criminal court, he added: “We call on states to join the group of nations proposing to include the crime of ecocide in the Rome statute. Acting with the knowledge of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment can no longer be tolerated.”

Vanuatu, an archipelago of about 80 islands, has tried to lead by example in its efforts to reduce fossil fuel dependency. The carbon-negative country, rated one of the most at-risk countries for natural disasters by the UN, has set itself a target to completely stop the use of fossil fuels by 2030.

The treaty, supported by the Vatican and the World Health Organization, has so far been backed by more than 65 cities and governments internationally.

Brianna Fruean, a Pacific climate activist, said the treaty is a “vital investment” in the future. “They’ve heard the call from our youth that there’s no future for us in fossil fuels and listened,” she said. “It’s time for other world leaders to do the same.”

Tongan Pacific climate activist Kalo Afeaki said: “We need countries to be bold because we have run out of time.”

She added: “The future scares me … we need countries to endorse the fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty and we need them to do so now.”