‘WE have got an incredible track record in decarbonising in the UK, faster than any other major economy. We should be really proud of that.” So said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during his fleeting visit to the COP28 climate talks in Dubai.

But actually not only has his government been watering down key green measures to decarbonise the UK economy, they have been equally proud about opening up new oil and gas fields in the North Sea.

This same dissonance is playing out at a global level too. For almost 30 years, world leaders have met annually for high-level talks – known as COPs – to decide how best to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system”, to hear the latest scientific evidence on how the world is warming, to agree that certain temperature thresholds must not be breached and then to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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COPs have come and gone, governments have gone away between meetings, made further plans and started the work of reducing emissions. Important stuff. But it’s not working and a little more than a week ago the world crossed a crucial threshold for temperature rise. A clear symptom of a planet getting steadily hotter and hotter.

For almost all that time, there has been an enormous elephant in the room – belching, climate-wrecking carbon pollution. Governments all agree that emissions must come down but they’ve steadfastly ignored the biggest source of those emissions – fossil fuels. In fact, until COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, the term “fossil fuels” had never featured – and since then, they’ve been barely mentioned.

The latest United Nations Production Gap Report shows that the planned production of fossil fuels – the driver of more than 86% of emissions in the last decade – is more than double what is compatible with keeping global average temperatures below the level agreed in the landmark accord made at the COP in Paris in 2015.

What’s going on then? Well for a start, the influence of the fossil fuel companies themselves is huge.

Research published last month disclosed that delegates linked to the world’s biggest polluting oil and gas firms and their trade groups have attended COP climate talks at least 7200 times since 2003. Oil giant Shell alone gained at least 115 passes to the talks for its staff over that time. It also spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year, both in the COP talks and at a national government level, lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.

On top of this, the company is favoured with subsidies and tax breaks, boosting profits to eye-watering levels. The market-knows-best system that it operates in is literally allowing it to profit from the climate emergency – which it is in large part responsible for and which it is also blocking the solutions to.

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We’re all paying the price, as climate-related weather disasters increase in frequency and intensity around the world and some countries – particularly in the global south – with the least ability to cope get hit the hardest.

It won’t be simple to move away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy at the pace that is needed, particularly while making sure that it’s done fairly for workers and for countries who rely on income from fossil fuels. We also need to learn the lessons from the failure of the energy markets and make sure that past patterns of colonial extraction of natural resources are not repeated for things like rare earth minerals.

What we need is a global exit plan from fossil fuels.

Luckily there is a growing call for one – for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, based on similar treaties to address the hole in the ozone layer, nuclear weapons and landmines. The treaty would provide a concrete, binding plan to end the expansion of new coal, oil and gas, and manage a global transition away from fossil fuels and to clean energy for everyone.

The call is being spearheaded by a group of nine nations, mostly from around the Pacific. They’ll be bringing the proposal to the floor of the COP in Dubai. And they’re supported globally by 2500 civil society organisations, 700 parliamentarians, 101 Nobel Laureates and 100 sub-national governments and cities around the world. A motion put down in the Scottish parliament by Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba last week endorsing the treaty proposal also now has cross-party support.

Scotland has shown it can be influential on the world stage when it successfully called for a climate loss and damage fund at the COP in Glasgow. It’s time to do it again. We’re calling on the First Minister and the Scottish Government to back the call for a fossil fuel treaty. The UK Government seems to have picked a side – and it’s the wrong one. Scotland must not follow.

Liz Murray is head of Scottish campaigns at Global Justice Now.