History of the Idea

The idea that we must leave fossil fuels in the ground is firmly on its way into the mainstream. Some steps on the way have been:


  • Oilwatch proposes a moratorium on new oil activities as a response to climate change.


  • Greenpeace’s Bill Hare publishes the report The Carbon Logic.
  • In the parallel sessions to the negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol, a global moratorium is put forward by Oilwatch.



  • Instead of exploiting the oil in one of the most biodiverse corners of the planet, in the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, the Ecuadorian government asks the international community for financial help amounting to half of the expected income from the oil, to be used for changing the course of the Ecuadorian economy to post-carbon.
  • George Monbiot points out the simple truth in a Guardian article called “Leave It In The Ground“.
  • Oilwatch proposes this as a policy alternative to extraction in a report called “KEEP OIL UNDERGROUND – the only way to fight climate change“. 



  • The Kyoto2 proposal for a global climate regime addresses the issue right where it comes out of the ground in a very elegant way.
  • Another proposal for a global regime, the Earth Atmospheric Trust is put forward.





  • Beyond Zero Emissions’ “Laggard to Leaderreport calls for a pragmatic focus on “cooperative decarbonization” in the absence of an operational global climate agreement and proposes for Australia to implement a moratorium on new fossil projects and tip the economic balance for renewables in India and China.
  • James Hansen writes it would be “Game Over for the Climate” if Canada were to exploit all of its tar sands.
  • 350.org starts its “Do the Math” campaign.
  • The Peoples’ Sustainability Treaty On Transitioning to a Zero Fossil Fuels World is generated as a civil society contribution to the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development and outlines pathways for initiating the transition to a post-carbon civilization.
  • The Greenpeace report “Point of No Return” lists the biggest projects that aim at increasing fossil fuel extraction around the world.
  • Nnimmo Bassey, Bill McKibben and Pablo Solón send a joint letter to COP18, calling for leaving two thirds of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.




  • An article in Nature spells out how much of different fossil fuel reserves would stay in the ground for a 2° target, based on economic considerations.
  • The Guardian newspaper initiates its “Keep it in the Ground” campaign.
  • The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change calls on well-off and oil-producing nations to leave two thirds of fossil fuels in the ground and phase out carbon emissions before mid-century.
  • Kiribati’s President Anote Tong calls on other leaders to establish a moratorium on new coal mines and coal mine extensions.
  • The Suva Declaration by Pacific Island leaders calls on governments to initiate a dialogue on a moratorium on fossil industry development, especially coal mines.
  • The proposal of a Keep it in the Ground Act is introduced in the United States to put fossil reserves under federal lands and waters off limits for extraction.
  • Oilwatch proposes the formation of an Annex Zero to the UNFCCC that recognizes efforts to prevent the extraction of fossil fuels.
  • Over 1000 groups call for a Global Ban on Fracking.
  • The Paris Agreement sets a date for “net zero” emissions in the second half of the century. Even though the agreement makes no mention of fossil fuels, many interpret this as an effective deadline for fossil fuels.


  • An article in Nature spells out how much of different fossil fuel reserves would stay in the ground for a 2° target, based on economic considerations.
  • A number of civil society groups propose a Climate Test for new fossil fuel infrastructure.
  • The Stockholm Environment Institute organizes an international conference on supply-side mitigation.
  • Oil Change International’s report “The Sky’s Limit” shows that existing coal mines and oil and gas fields can take us past the carbon budget after the Paris Agreement.