Tzeporah Berman, Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative: “Never underestimate the power that we have to make change”

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Tzeporah Berman, founder and director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative

Thirty years ago, I was sitting in a geography class at university. I remember seeing an image of the ancient temperate rainforests on Canada’s west coast, trees that were 1,000 years old. They were being clear-cut logged to make lumber, newspaper and toilet paper. I remember feeling awe at the beauty of nature and devastation that we were creating irreversible harm.

That summer, I spent all my savings on a backpack and a pair of hiking boots. I went to the west coast of Canada and I fell in love with those forests. I think I’ve been on a journey ever since, trying to figure out how you make change happen.

How do you convince governments and corporations to make the changes we need to have a more sustainable planet and save what’s left of wild nature?

Protecting the rainforests

The first time I began to see the impact of my work was when I got a call from the vice president of this logging company. I’d been organising a campaign to shift their practices. She said, “We want to do the right thing. We’re not sure how to do that but if you’ll sit down and help us figure it out with the indigenous people in the region, we’ll stop clear-cut logging.” That was when I realised we could change the future of these rainforests.

For a number of years, I worked in Canada to stop the expansion of tarsands and tarsands pipelines. The tar sands is the single largest industrial project on earth and one of the dirtiest oil projects in the world. I was appointed by the government to help design climate policy in Alberta. We made great progress and the oil industry stood with First Nations and environmentalists and announced the first ever climate policy in the history of Alberta.

But the ink was barely dry on that legislation before the oil industry started campaigning behind our backs against the policy and fear-mongering about price increases. This led to the failure of the policy. I was devastated. I felt like it had been a waste of time. I’d been incredibly naive.

Hope is something you create

Then, as I looked at my kids one day, I realised I had to tell them that hope is not something you just have. It’s something you create. I realised there must be people in other countries who were shocked that governments were putting forward good climate policies, while still approving new fracking and oil drilling.

I started doing research and contacting people in Norway, Argentina and Ecuador – and I realised we’re so much more powerful together. We need to build bigger coalitions. And we need to ensure that governments work together to manage the phase out of fossil fuel production and use in a way that is fast, fair and financed. That’s what led me to create the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. And now we’re seeing significant change.

I’ll never forget the moment at the 2022 UN General Assembly when the Prime Minister of Vanuatu stood up in front of the UN and was the first country to call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was like this idea we’d been trying to build was now real in the world.

Colombia calls for collaboration

At the United Nations climate change negotiations in Dubai last year, President Petro from Colombia gave a speech that I’ll never forget. He said, “We have a choice to pursue life and living systems and energy systems that protect everyone. Or we can continue with a system that is the greatest cause of death around the world, not just because of the threat of climate change, but from air pollution.”

He went on to acknowledge that Colombia is the fifth largest coal producer in the world – and that it needs to collaborate with other countries to stop the expansion of fossil fuels. To see the president of Colombia calling on other countries to join the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty was an incredible moment for me.

Reimagining industrial society

If I had two minutes to speak at the next COP, I’d say this: We stand here knowing that right now, people are dying and losing their homes because of fires, floods and extreme weather. The good news is that we have the technology today to create cleaner, safer energy systems. We have a commitment to triple renewable energy.

But the atmosphere doesn’t care how many solar panels we create. That commitment to triple renewable energy is not going to save lives unless we also commit to displace fossil fuels. Right now, we’re on track to produce 110% more oil, gas, and coal than we can ever use if we’re going to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

We need a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty that will provide the new global governance mechanisms to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. We know it’s not going to be easy. But we’re living in an exciting time, where we’re reimagining industrial society in a way that benefits all.

Imagining change makes it possible

My hope for the future is that we’re able to see across race, class and political differences and come together with a common sense of purpose. We need to build a movement that includes millions who are standing up together to call for the future that we want, a cleaner and safer future.

Years ago, when I overwhelmed by the state of the climate, I had a conversation with my grandmother. She said, “The world has entirely changed in my lifetime, and it will in yours as well. Never underestimate the power we have to make change.”

When I feel despair now, I think about that conversation. I imagine telling my children about a world where we cut down old growth forests to make paper, a world where we used to fill our cars with gas. And they’ll barely believe me because the world will be such a different place.

In some ways, I feel like the current climate debate has has robbed us of our imagination. We do all these models and assessment. But we fail to imagine a scale of change and leadership that is totally possible. If we’re going to create that future, we have to imagine it.

About

Tzeporah Berman is the chair and founder of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative (FFNPT). The FFNPT is a project to encourage countries to collaborate, to create new rules of international cooperation to help us meet the goals of the Paris Agreement by constraining the production of fossil fuels in line with climate goals.

The IKEA Foundation supports the campaign behind the call for the negotiation of a Fossil Fuel Treaty, so that over the next three years the governance and policy mechanisms required to reach the Paris Climate Agreement goals and protect the planet can be put in place.

Social

Stay up-to-date and follow us for news and info about exciting grants

  • Earlier this year, our ambassadors participated in the New York #AmbassadorHub at the United Nations πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘

The week was a huge success as our ambassadors had the chance to meet incredible leaders like Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the @unitednations, Sivanka Dhanapala, Director of the New York office for @refugees and Sarah Bieber, Head of Energy Partnerships at @acumenorg.

Thanks to the amazing partners and ambassadors who collaborated with us ⭐ @refugees, @healthcarewithoutharm, We Mean Business Coalition

#ProudAmbassadors #AH2024
  • β€œI'd like to see a future where young people are empowered; where they drive innovations and solutions that can be scaled to make a difference for their communities and the world around them.” 

As Founder and Lead of Programmes at @genunlimited, Urmila Sarkar is working to diminish employment gaps and improve the livelihoods of students through essential upskilling opportunities πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘

Read Urmila’s personal story to learn more via the link in bio πŸ”—

#PeopleAndPlanet #ClimateNarratives #ClimateSolutions
Earlier this year, our ambassadors participated in the New York #AmbassadorHub at the United Nations πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘

The week was a huge success as our ambassadors had the chance to meet incredible leaders like Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the @unitednations, Sivanka Dhanapala, Director of the New York office for @refugees and Sarah Bieber, Head of Energy Partnerships at @acumenorg.

Thanks to the amazing partners and ambassadors who collaborated with us ⭐ @refugees, @healthcarewithoutharm, We Mean Business Coalition

#ProudAmbassadors #AH2024
Earlier this year, our ambassadors participated in the New York #AmbassadorHub at the United Nations πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘

The week was a huge success as our ambassadors had the chance to meet incredible leaders like Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the @unitednations, Sivanka Dhanapala, Director of the New York office for @refugees and Sarah Bieber, Head of Energy Partnerships at @acumenorg.

Thanks to the amazing partners and ambassadors who collaborated with us ⭐ @refugees, @healthcarewithoutharm, We Mean Business Coalition

#ProudAmbassadors #AH2024
Earlier this year, our ambassadors participated in the New York #AmbassadorHub at the United Nations πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘ The week was a huge success as our ambassadors had the chance to meet incredible leaders like Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the @unitednations, Sivanka Dhanapala, Director of the New York office for @refugees and Sarah Bieber, Head of Energy Partnerships at @acumenorg. Thanks to the amazing partners and ambassadors who collaborated with us ⭐ @refugees, @healthcarewithoutharm, We Mean Business Coalition #ProudAmbassadors #AH2024
5 days ago
View on Instagram |
1/2
β€œI'd like to see a future where young people are empowered; where they drive innovations and solutions that can be scaled to make a difference for their communities and the world around them.” 

As Founder and Lead of Programmes at @genunlimited, Urmila Sarkar is working to diminish employment gaps and improve the livelihoods of students through essential upskilling opportunities πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘

Read Urmila’s personal story to learn more via the link in bio πŸ”—

#PeopleAndPlanet #ClimateNarratives #ClimateSolutions
β€œI'd like to see a future where young people are empowered; where they drive innovations and solutions that can be scaled to make a difference for their communities and the world around them.” 

As Founder and Lead of Programmes at @genunlimited, Urmila Sarkar is working to diminish employment gaps and improve the livelihoods of students through essential upskilling opportunities πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘

Read Urmila’s personal story to learn more via the link in bio πŸ”—

#PeopleAndPlanet #ClimateNarratives #ClimateSolutions
β€œI'd like to see a future where young people are empowered; where they drive innovations and solutions that can be scaled to make a difference for their communities and the world around them.” 

As Founder and Lead of Programmes at @genunlimited, Urmila Sarkar is working to diminish employment gaps and improve the livelihoods of students through essential upskilling opportunities πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘

Read Urmila’s personal story to learn more via the link in bio πŸ”—

#PeopleAndPlanet #ClimateNarratives #ClimateSolutions
β€œI'd like to see a future where young people are empowered; where they drive innovations and solutions that can be scaled to make a difference for their communities and the world around them.” As Founder and Lead of Programmes at @genunlimited, Urmila Sarkar is working to diminish employment gaps and improve the livelihoods of students through essential upskilling opportunities πŸ§‘β€πŸ€β€πŸ§‘ Read Urmila’s personal story to learn more via the link in bio πŸ”— #PeopleAndPlanet #ClimateNarratives #ClimateSolutions
2 weeks ago
View on Instagram |
2/2