Climate Change

All talk, no walk: G7 fail to inspire ambitious climate action

G7’s request for a common net zero deadline from other major economies seriously undermines equity considerations & shifts responsibility for ambitious climate action to emerging economies

By Ananya Anoop Rao
Published: Wednesday 24 May 2023
Photo: Twitter@narendramodi.

The G7 group of advanced economies — consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Japan — concluded their 49th meeting on a disappointing note for climate action.

In a statement from the summit that concluded on May 21, 2023, the G7 committed to achieving a “fully or predominantly” decarbonised power sector by 2035 while calling for increased liquefied natural gas (LNG) investments in the short term. 

Furthermore, the G7 said they would take “timely steps” towards accelerating the phase-out of domestic unabated coal power. However, they fell short of setting a deadline for the phase-out of coal. 

Equity forgotten

The G7 countries asked all “major economies” — an informal reference to countries like India and China — to reach net zero by 2050 and to strengthen and update their commitments before (COP28) such that they are aligned to a 1.5C pathway.

Also read: G7 sets renewables target, no timeline for fossil fuel phase out

All G7 countries, except Germany, committed to reaching net zero by 2050 in their nationally determined contributions (NDC). Germany has committed to reaching net zero by 2045. Additionally, none of the G7 countries’ NDCs are currently aligned with the 1.5C pathway. The G7’s request for a common net zero deadline from other major economies seriously undermines equity considerations. It shifts responsibility for ambitious climate action to emerging economies.

The principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility’ (CBDR), enshrined in the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, is a critical principle that underlines equity in climate negotiations. CBDR acknowledges that countries are differentially responsible for the current carbon dioxide stock in the atmosphere because of their historical contributions, which are significantly larger for developed countries than those of emerging economies. The G7’s current statement violates the CBDR principle, in addition to being hypocritical.

Addiction to natural gas

Citing energy security concerns from the Russia-Ukraine war and the “need to phase out of dependency on Russian energy”, the G7 called for publicly supported investment in the gas sector as a temporary response. 

Read more: Climate change: What G7 leaders could have said but didn’t

While they have asked other major economies to set more ambitious climate action goals, G7’s own power sectors tell a different story. Japan continues to be heavily reliant on coal and has been resistant to phasing out coal power, thus diluting the call for an internal deadline to phase out fossil fuels within the G7. 

Japan has also pushed for stepping up gas investments, as it views LNG and natural gas as important transition fuels. It has also been promoting the use of ammonia as a fuel for co-firing in coal plants as a coal power decarbonisation strategy. However, ammonia co-firing has limited emission reduction potential.

Additionally, it could delay the urgent investments needed in the renewable energy sector. Germany has increased its investment in gas infrastructure following cuts in supplies owing to the Russia-Ukraine war.

The US has pushed for more federal government investments in renewable energy through the Inflation Reduction Act, which it passed in 2022. Under the act, the country has announced big tax incentives for different renewable energy sources and a push towards electric vehicles.

However, investments in oil and gas drilling have continued, with the US recently putting a huge swathe of the Gulf of Mexico on auction for oil drilling. In March this year, the US also approved one of its largest oil development projects, the Willow project, with an estimated capacity of 576 million barrels over 30 years. This project is likely to add an estimated 239 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over 30 years.

Despite decoupling itself from Russian piped gas and increasing the share of renewables, Europe increased Russian LNG imports by 46 per cent between January and September 2022 compared to 2021.

“It is necessary to accelerate the phase-out of our dependency on Russian energy, including through energy savings and gas demand reduction, in a manner consistent with our Paris commitments, and address the global impact of Russia’s war on energy supplies, gas prices and inflation, and people’s lives, recognising the primary need to accelerate the clean energy transition,” G7 said in its statement.

“In this context, we stress the important role that increased deliveries of LNG can play,” it added.

Too little, too late on Climate Finance

On the climate finance front, the G7 reaffirmed their commitment to the developed countries’ goal of jointly mobilising $100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020 to 2025. The organisation said it would work together with other developed countries to fully meet the $100 billion goal in 2023. 

Furthermore, they welcomed “discussions on an ambitious and fit-for-purpose new collective quantified goal (NCQG) to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals”.

“The G7 has made the right noises on climate finance and claim that the $100 billion goal will finally be met this year. But the truth is that it is too little and too late,” said Avantika Goswami, programme manager, climate change at Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

The needs of developing countries are escalating to about one trillion in external finance by 2030. The G7 will have to negotiate in good faith on the NCQG to arrive at an ambitious updated figure, she added.

Civil society organisations have criticised the G7 for poor climate leadership and for diluting the conversation. The G7’s call for additional investment in fossil gas at a time when advanced economies should be looking at heavily decarbonising their power sector is extremely concerning — especially when they have not reached a consensus on a deadline to phase out fossil fuel use.

Moreover, asking growing economies to match the same timeline as advanced economies to reach their net-zero targets — in addition to asking them to make renewed commitments towards ambitious mitigation action while not committing to stronger action on fossil fuel phase-out — points towards a failed opportunity for the G7 to lead on ambitious climate action.

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