Zero Fossils Planning Guide

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This guide shall help you develop a Zero Fossils Plan for your city, region or country. The process works like a spiral: as the very first step, you develop a vision, an idea of the reality that you will set out to create. Each step broadens, widens, deepens this vision and involves more people. But from the very beginning one thing is clear: a positive future free of fossil fuels is possible and even more: it is necessary and within our reach.

This guide is one of the results of a series of meetings about "leaving fossil fuels in the ground" (LINGO) that happened in Durban in November/December 2011.

Click here for a worldwide list of existing zero emissions plans and targets.


Step 1: Brainstorming

Milestone: One or two pages that contain a number of your ideas about a zero fossils future.

Examples: How to achieve a Good Life with Zero Fossils in South Africa, San Cristóbal Mejor sin Petróleo (Spanish)

You just need one person to initiate the whole process: yourself! First decide whether you want to focus on your country, region, city, neighbourhood. Then start brainstorming ideas and producing visions and record the results. Then invite some other people to share your ideas and take it further (step 2).


  • What will my city/country look like without fossil fuels?
  • How are we going to live?
  • What are we going to eat?
  • What aspects of life are going to be very different?
  • What aspects are going to be (almost) the same?
  • What improvements will make this possible?


  • Be bold. Try to generate as many ideas as possible. The more, the better. Cutting them back or giving them a more presentable shape can be done in a later stage, if necessary, but first you need to have a wealth of material to work with.
  • Think "extreme" - imagine what kind of equipment can be made without using fossil fuels. Imagine building materials that don't need to be transported for long distances with gasoline-fuelled trucks. Imagine communities completely off the electric grid. Imagine recycling with low energy requirements. What will the consequences of extreme changes be on a personal, community, regional, national level?
  • If you like, you can draw a mind map.
  • This can easily be done within an already existing organization of green activists: Present the idea to the group (giving successful examples) and organize the brainstorming session.
  • You could run a competition or challenge around the "possibility of zero fossil fuels" at a local school or university.

Step 2: The first meeting(s)

Milestone: A group of people commits to pushing for zero fossils.

Invite some friends and people who are working on related or at least compatible projects to talk about "Zero Fossils in [YOUR CITY/COUNTRY]". When working the country level, you may have to do a virtual meeting, for example via skype. Else you can simply invite them over to your house to sit together for an afternoon.

Make a list of people who you feel should be part of the process. Invite them personally to join you in this effort.

  1. Specialists with expert knowledge: Ask them if they would like to contribute their expertise. If they like the project enough, they will take on more responsibilities themselves.
  2. Newcomers: Students or other young people who you personally know and trust and who you feel would be honoured and thrilled to be part of this undertaking. They may not have specialized knowledge but will grow with the task and contribute a lot of enthusiasm and energy!
  3. Volunteers: By openly inviting to join the working group, you will find some persons that share your positive ideology and are willing to put their energy into the project.

An agenda for the meeting can include:

  1. Getting to know each other
  2. Why you called the meeting, the story behind it
  3. Why everyone thinks the topic is important, ideas, questions, worries and hopes
  4. Next steps (how about step 3??)

If you have a critical mass of people committed to working towards the zero fossils vision, a next meeting will naturally emerge.


  • Currently, emissions are increasing, new coal-fired power plants are still being built and research and development efforts are still spent on additional (non-conventional) fossil fuels, at a moment when even a considerable portion of the conventional fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) will have to be left untouched underground (about 80%). The "solutions" most widely promoted, such as offsetting and carbon markets do not initiate the inevitable transformation. All of this is an expression of a situation where the fossil free future has not yet been embraced as a vision.

Step 3: Initial research

Milestone: You have a collection of existing solutions (and challenges to be overcome) for a good zero-fossils life in your city and a rough vision of your "landing place".

Example: Forest Row in Transition (UK), Masdar City (UAE), Sibaya (South Africa), Yokohama - A city wide zero-carbon lifestyle (Japan)

Once you have a group of people who are committed, you can get down to work. Best is to split up the work between all the participants. Everyone should be contributing something that they like to give or do. This can range from some piece of advice to a near full-time commitment to developing the initiative.

At the beginning, there will always be some research to be done. Bringing together concrete elements that underpin the vision is already a great step forward. Gather information about your community and any existing sustainability plans in relation to the questions below. Review the information you have gathered in another meeting and compile the results for future reference. You may also want to gather some information that characterizes the problem and helps you analyze different strategic options for your intervention.

Issues that usually emerge in this phase:

  • Analysis - where do we stand? (biggest sources of emissions, obstacles to reaching our vision)
  • Existing solutions and plans
  • Rough vision document of the group
  • How you want to work together (rules/routines for the group, regular meeting)
  • Short, medium and long term goals for your group

Possible questions:

  1. What in your city uses most fossil energy?
  2. What emissions reduction strategies exist today?
  3. What best practices for a sustainable/low carbon food supply are there today?
  4. How sustainable is our water supply/how could it become sustainable?
  5. What means of transportation is efficient/renewable? Which transport need could be eliminated?
  6. Which local resistance struggles exist that should be strengthened and integrated into our efforts?
  7. Are any elements of this plan already worked out in more detail? What sources could we draw elements from?
  8. Which households in our city will need MORE energy in the future to meet their basic needs?
  9. Which questions came up and how are we going to figure out the answers?
  10. Which partners that could contribute useful know-how would we like to draw in?
  11. How can we achieve a sustainable food supply?
  12. How can we achieve a sustainable water supply?
  13. How can we use traditional building techniques in our area for meeting housing needs?
  14. Which traditional medicines and ways of keeping healthy can be used in our area?
  15. Which health problems can be eliminated or reduced through lifestyle changes?
  16. Power up: Which renewable energy potentials exist in our area? How much power can we generate from renewable sources with different levels of investment (i.e. how much does it take to create different amounts of power)?
  17. How can we reduce transport needs?


  • Check the Transition Ingredients for success factors of your initiative
  • Delegate the research out to your team!

Step 4: The first rough draft

Milestone: Draft zero fossils plan published.

Examples: Vision2050 for Romania (INFORSE), South Africa 100% Renewable Energy Campaign, Moreland Solar City (Australia)

Several working groups work out detailed scenarios/plans/options over several weeks which are combined into a detailed document, a draft plan to achieve a good life without fossil fuels that will be used to spark discussion or to lobby.

Additional Questions:

  1. Power down: What are candidates for "disposable" energy expenditures? How much energy is needed for survival of the human population in our area, for meeting basic needs and for a good quality of life?
  2. Are there sustainable local manufacturing traditions that could be maintainted or revived?
  3. How can we find out about and take advantage of sustainable solutions of the elders for meeting needs?
  4. Are there any existing solutions that address households' needs for food/water/energy in an integrated way?
  5. What infrastructure must be changed in order to achieve zero fossils?
  6. What investments need to be redirected in order to achieve zero fossils?
  7. Do we have an abundance of something that our area could share?
  8. What needs do we find difficult to meet locally and would we need to meet through regional, national or international exchange?
  9. What contribution can our area make to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere? (Explanation: we are at 390+ppm, "safe" levels are less than 350ppm. This means that as humanity, we have to stop emitting CO2 AND remove CO2 from the atmosphere to get down to "safe" levels. All of us must make a contribution.)
  10. Do we have fossil fuel reserves in our area? If yes, what part of them could be extracted and what part should be left in the ground?
  11. How can we integrate climate refugees in our area and how many could we integrate? (Explanation: there are already climate refugees today and millions more will be displaced in the future. We should all stand together as a human family and provide a new home for them.)


  • Draw a fossil age graph for your city/region/country to get an understanding of how long the fossil age has lasted and until when it will be brought to an end by you. (example: Mexico)
  • Check existing plans and scenarios from around the world
  • The difference between a zero fossils target (leaving it in the ground) and "simply" lowering carbon emissions is that change needs to be transformational instead of doing a little bit less bad. That way we start thinking about a transition, not just some low-hangig fruits, which seem to achieve the reductions "needed" in the first couple of years on some emissions reductions pathway.
  • Climate science warrants a zero fossils approach, if the offical targets (limiting warming to less than 2°C or 1.5°C) are to be taken seriously.
  • EfficienCity from Greenpeace UK gives a lot of examples of where to start looking in a city.

Step 5: The first complete scenario

Milestone: Comprehensive zero fossils scenario published.

Examples: Totnes Energy Descent Action Plan (UK), Munich - Pahts toward a carbon-free future (Germany), Oil Independent Oakland Action Plan (USA), Zero Carbon Australia 2020, Estudio de Factibilidad Energías Renovables, Islas Galápagos (Ecuador) (see Zero Emissions for a full list)

A full scenario/vision/strategy/plan that tries to be inclusive of the different elements of the community and has buy-in of relevant institutions/players.

Additional Questions:

  1. Which skills will be needed to implement the plan?
  2. Which obstacles need to be overcome for the implementation of this plan?
  3. Which timeframes are we considering? Which elements can be speeded up/delayed? What actions have to start immediately?


Step 6: Officially adopting the plan

Milestone: An official government plan that was developed with participation of civil society.

Example: 100% Renewable Energy Regions (Germany), Energy City Frederikshavn (Denmark)

When you get this far, obviously you will have learned a great deal in the process and new challenges will have appeared. If those warrant it, please loop back to step 1 and come up with a solution to those challenges!

Hints: Energy Cities' proposals concerning the energy transition of territories

Step 7: Implementing the plan

Milestone: A zero fossils lifestyle is a reality in your city/region/country.

Example: BedZED (UK)

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