December 28, 2023

Another World is Possible: 10 wins against fossil fuels in 2023

2023 was a year of record-breaking profits for oil billionaires and record-breaking temperatures for the rest of us. Yet another climate conference failed to deliver on keeping heating below 1.5 degrees.

But 2023 was also an incredible display of people power — people like you and me holding big polluters accountable, stopping new fossil fuel projects in its tracks, and forcing countries to come up with better climate plans.

As this year comes to an end, we celebrate the incredible achievements of our movement which is bringing us closer to a safe and fossil-free future — one win at a time.

1. People of Ecuador vote against oil exploration in Amazon in landmark referendum

In a historic referendum, Ecuadorians voted to stop the developments of new oil wells in the Yasuní national park in the Amazon, with over 58% voting in favour. The vote will keep more than 726 million barrels of oil in the ground, in the homelands of the Tagaeri and Taromenane people, two of the world’s last Indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation.

The campaign was led by Indigenous peoples whose homes are in the area. However, government ministers have hinted at not respecting the results of the referendum and campaigners are continuing to pressure to ensure the oil operations are halted and its infrastructure is dismantled.

2. North Yorkshire fracking project successfully stopped by community to turn to geothermal energy.

A fracking site in Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, was once the target of an environmental campaign and an anti-fracking camp. Now, in a UK first, the abandoned gas site could become a source of renewable energy instead. A team of former oil and gas veterans are now using their expertise to turn the area into a source of renewable geothermal energy, because they describe it, unlike fracking, as coming with very little environmental risk and being particularly suitable for replacing gas to heat homes.

The project is currently in its final testing phase and development could start in the next few months. Kirby Misperton is an example of how fossil fuel sites could be replaced and transformed into something that benefits both people and the planet: with science telling us that existing fossil fuel infrastructure would push us beyond 1.5 degrees of heating, we urgently need more energy companies to do the same.

3. The world saw unprecedented growth in renewable energy.

Driven by the energy price crisis caused by volatile gas, momentum behind renewables has surged. Renewable energy is at the forefront of Europe’s response to the energy crisis, while China alone is set to account for half of global additions of renewable power in the next year, and on solar power specifically, is thought to have installed, in 2023 alone, twice the total installed capacity of solar power in the US. Many countries shattered records this year, with Portugal producing more renewable energy than its electricity needs for a week.

But we are not yet moving fast enough. The renewable revolution still needs a lot more support from governments, and action - rather than empty promises - from energy companies if we are to keep below 1.5 degree of global heating. The progress we saw in 2023 showed us that it is entirely possible to move at a faster pace – and we’ll need to ramp it up even more in 2024.

4. Australia blocks coal mine under environmental laws for the first time.

In February, Australia blocked the creation of a new open-cast coal mine to protect the Great Barrier Reef – which was located only 6 miles away from the mine. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered a number of mass bleaching events, and a public consultation received over 9,000 submissions in only ten days, with the majority demanding for the project to be stopped.

Australia is waking up to the fact that there is no future in coal, and people around the country are taking action to stop new projects from happening. Only in November, Australia saw its largest civil disobedience protest in history, when thousands of people took part in a protest blocking half a million tonnes of coal exports at the country’s largest coal port.

5. Grassroots campaigns stopped local gas projects 

In two towns in Ontario, Canada, two gas power plant expansions were stopped after community opposition, leading to council voting against the projects. Meanwhile in Ireland, grassroots activists in Kerry halted the Shannon LNG project after a decade-long campaign including occupation, with the project’s planning permission being refused.

6. Massive global protests demanded an end to fossil fuels.

Massive mobilisations took place around the world, urging governments to commit to ending fossil fuels ahead of COP28. An estimated 600,000 people took to the streets worldwide, including tens of thousands in New York City. President Biden in particular was targeted, with the US accounting more than one third of planned global oil and gas expansion through 2050.

The mobilisation coincided with the UNSG Climate Action Summit, and reached across the world with actions happening on every single continent.

7. Countries committed to phasing out fossil fuels.

In January, Colombia’s new government announced a complete halt on fossil fuel exploration — a major step for a country whose economy is heavily reliant on fossil fuel revenues.

2023 was also a successful year for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative. The campaign saw a number of impactful signatories — from Warsaw becoming the first Central  European capital to sign the treaty; Austin, Texas signing as the main oil-producing state in the US; and Colombia as the largest producer of coal and gas to join the Treaty. The Treaty was also formally endorsed by Nauru, Palau, Samoa, the state of California and the European Parliament.

Following a successful campaign, a number of European countries are leaving the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), a system which allows fossil fuel companies to sue governments over policies which cut their future profits. After France, Germany, Spain and seven other countries have committed to leave the Treaty, it is likely that the EU will withdraw as a whole. The UK has yet to commit to exiting the ECT.

8. Cultural institutions end sponsorships from fossil fuels

Cultural institutions have the power to accelerate — or hinder — progress on climate action. A number of groups have made incredible progress dismantling the fossil fuel industry’s social licence through divestment.

At the beginning of the year, the UK’s Royal Opera House ended its controversial BP sponsorship after 33 years, following a campaign by Culture Unstained.

In the most significant win of the year, another campaign led by Culture Unstained resulted in the British Museum ending a 27-year sponsorship with BP in June.

During Pride Month in June, Fossil Free Pride celebrated a success when the British LBGT awards dropped their sponsorship deals with Shell and BP, after nominees and judges began pulling out of the competition and the awards were threatened by boycotts.

In the same month, the Church of England announced that it would divest its multi-billion pound endowment and pension funds away from fossil fuels, after oil and gas companies U-turned on their climate commitments.

9. Activists fought big oil in the courts - and won.

Climate litigation is gaining popularity as a tactic to stop new oil and gas projects, and holding polluting companies accountable. This year’s Climate Litigation Snapshot counts 190 cases being filed worldwide between June 2022 to May 2023, and reports the diversity of cases increasing as well. More than half of cases have direct outcomes that are favourable to climate action — but even those that are not successful in the courtroom have indirect impacts, with governments and companies being more aware of climate change risks and litigation risks when making policy decisions.

In August, a judge ruled in favour of young plaintiffs in Montana in a landmark case, upholding their constitutional right to a healthy environment. The group of youths argued that by approving new fossil fuel projects without considering climate change, the state was infringing on their constitutional right. 

In September, a judge dismissed charges against three Anishinaabe water protectors who attempted to halt construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota in the name of climate justice. The judge used a rare Minnesota statute that allows dismissal of a case if doing so furthers justice.

In October, young people in Estonia forced the state energy firm to halt the construction of a shale oil plant through a court order. The plaintiffs argued that the building permit breached international climate agreements, and the court eventually revoked its permit due to the damage that would be done to the environment. The case was the first climate court case in Estonia and the Baltics as a whole, and is paving the way for future climate litigation. 

10. The UK government is being taken to court over the Rosebank oil field.

In September, the UK government approved the development of the massive Rosebank oil field. We believe that this decision is not just morally and economically wrong, but unlawful. We’re filing not just one, but two cases against the government so we can #StopRosebank.

Want to support the case? Tell the Government that this case is also in your name. Add your name via this link.