This icon search is  powered by Algolia

Home > Database > A coal elimination treaty 2030: Fast tracking climate change mitigation, global health and security

A coal elimination treaty 2030: Fast tracking climate change mitigation, global health and security

Anthony Burke and Stefanie Fishel (2020)

Link to paper

Redline summary

In response to deficiencies in the UNFCCC (i.e. soft law model, non-binding targets, lack of accountability) and in the Paris Agreement (i.e. “dangerous incrementalism”, repackaging of inadequate rules, and the fact that nationally-determined commitments are not currently sufficient to meet temperature targets), this paper argues for a coal elimination treaty (‘CET’), a global treaty to end coal by 2030. 

The reasons for advocating for a CET are numerous. First, phasing out coal is a relatively uncomplicated measure to achieve net zero when compared to more complex measures (e.g. land use). Coal mining, production and burning also results in a plethora of dangerous health effects, such as air pollution, contributions to climate change, damage to ecosystems and therefore a raft of health and security issues. A CET could assist the industry’s transition away from fossil fuels by providing certainty to investors, avoiding carbon leakage, and triggering investment in renewables. The paper critically notes that carbon capture and sequestration technology is not yet ready to constitute a viable solution to reaching net zero by 2050. 

The paper discusses various design options in relation to a CET, noting that a CET would need to address the UNFCCC’s failings, by minimising the power of a few states to dismantle the efficacy of the regime (i.e. through its voting rules). It compares and contrasts three proposed models to create a CET from: a standalone treaty negotiated under the UNGA, such as the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; WHO conventions; and a multilateral environmental agreement such as the Montreal Protocol to the UNFCCC. 

It concludes that the Montreal-style agreement, in conjunction with the UNGA pathway, would be the best option as it provides a way to catapult discussion on the impacts of coal and enables wider entry into force by allowing non-member states to sign on when they choose to. The Montreal-style agreement has an adaptive structure, responsive to developments in science. Its accountability mechanism has also been considered successful. The UNGA pathway is also attractive because of the simple majority voting process, its capacity to produce rapid developments, and its ability to naturally encourage states to sign onto it according to national circumstances.  

The paper notes that this staged process which first normatively stigmatizes coal, prohibits it through the treaty, and then eliminates it through treaty implementation, would be an effective way to address coal. It views NGOs, community groups, climate-vulnerable states, and high-ambition states as first movers, after which moral and normative pressure formed through this adoption provides the space for formal architecture to be agreed. The paper recognises the power of the proposed treaty to create and solidify new norms, putting “profound pressure” on slow movers to transition away from coal. A CET would “begin a cascade of market and policy shifts” putting us in the best position to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature targets. 

This paper demonstrates the importance of phasing out fossil fuels, particularly coal, to meet obligations under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement. It also reflects the efforts being made in relation to developing further international law to ensure those obligations are met. Finally, it reinforces the power of rejecting fossil fuel projects on strengthening anti-fossil fuel norms, which underpin future efforts to meet climate change targets through supply-side policies. Specifically, their ability to pressure others to follow suit, reinforcing the normative power rejecting a proposal for fossil fuels can have nationally and internationally towards addressing global climate change. 

Paper Categories

Related Papers

A project of University College London

Proudly supported by

UCL Grand Challenges

Project partners