Discussion paper

A Fossil Fuel Free Zone (FFFZ) is a geographic area characterised by the complete absence of fossil fuel exploration, production, transportation, intermediate treatment, and consumption activities. Many “intermediate” zonal statuses are also defined, e.g. “coal supply free zone” (see Figure 1).

Any collective entity at any scale—a local football club, university, municipality/council, subnational state/province, country, regional grouping of countries, or the entire world—could in principle be a FFFZ. All it would take is for people to declare what they already are (e.g. the vast majority of the world is already a “fossil fuel supply free zone”) and start working toward ‘higher’ status.

Public declarations of achievement by collectives would inspire followers elsewhere, help build global norms against fossil fuels, and shame laggards. Participation in meaningful collective action also gives people a sense of personal efficacy in contributing to climate mitigation that isolated individual actions do not. Groups at similar levels (eg. municipality-to-municipality) could build networks and exchange ideas and information about how to progress to higher levels. Crucially, this initiative would be additive and complementary to (not competitive with) existing initiatives such as C40 cities, ICLEI, transition towns, coal moratoria, fracking bans etc.

This proposal draws on a wide body of social science theory and evidence— concerning, e.g., the development and spread of moral and social norms, behavioural psychology, social movements and political mobilisation—analysed and discussed by the author in associated academic journal articles. It also draws on the historical precedent of Nuclear Weapon Free Zones, five of which have been established by international treaty in populated regions of the world—Latin America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central Asia—and which have been highly effective nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament institutions.

An organisational platform is needed to further develop the strategy, and to champion and lead this effort. This body could also: further define each zonal status and the criteria necessary to achieve it; develop an authoritative system of reporting and verification to certify the achievement of zonal statuses by participants; facilitate network-building and information exchange among participants; and maintain a public website with a central, easily searchable database of zones around the world.

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