Gas investments and nuclear energy remain in play while urgent action is needed to phase out fossil fuels
The Group of Seven (G7) Ministers’ Meeting on Climate, Energy and Environment was held in Sapporo, Japan April 15 and 16, 2023.
Advanced economies have an outsized contribution to the climate crisis, making the potential impact of their timely actions all the more important. It is critical to look at how they steer the global agenda on climate action.
This is how some key issues were proposed to be addressed at the meeting:
Energy transition and climate action commitments were once considered a challenge to energy security. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine destabilised the international energy market last year, both energy transition and diversification have received greater support from wealthy countries.
This was reflected in the joint communique of the G7 meeting as well. Although energy transition has been a recurrent theme of these meetings in the past, commitments have fallen short of what is needed to address the scale and urgency of the climate crisis adequately.
In Sapporo, G7 committed to collectively increasing offshore wind capacity by 150 gigawatts and adding solar capacity of over 1 terawatt.
It is worth noting that the G7’s total solar capacity in 2022 was 319.7 GW, which represents just over 30 per cent of the total world solar capacity. With the G7’s present commitment, this capacity is expected to grow to about 1.3 TW, which is about four times the current capacity.
Similarly, the total offshore wind power of G7 countries in 2022 was 22.5 GW, which represents just over 35.6 per cent of the total world offshore wind power capacity. The 2030 target would see an eight-fold increase in the G7 installed offshore wind capacity.
The group committed to ‘accelerate the phase out of’ unabated fossil fuels but failed to share a timeline for the phase out, including for unabated domestic coal.
Countries reaffirmed their commitment to a ‘fully or predominantly’ decarbonised power sector by 2035, recalling the declaration made last year. The G7 has reiterated the commitment to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 or sooner.
While Japan pushed for investments in the gas sector as an energy transition measure, the concerns were accommodated to a limited extent. The final draft stated that investments in gas might only be needed as a short-term measure to fill the gap in energy shortfalls.
“While G7 ministers recognised the need to scale up renewable energy, their commitment to phase out of fossil fuels is frivolous and full of loopholes,” Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy for global non-profit network Climate Action Network International, told Down To Earth.
“The calls from scientists and activists to urgently phase out fossil fuels and support a just and green transition in developing countries seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. The rich industrialised countries are also shirking their responsibility to provide adequate finance to help poorer nations adapt to and recover from the losses and damages caused by climate disasters,” Singh said.
The energy-transition ambition is not equally shared among the members. Japan has been an outlier because of its reluctance to phase out fossil fuels and instead rely on carbon capture and the use of hydrogen in promoting low-carbon technologies.
While Canada pushed for stronger language on coal phase-out, the statement on fossil fuels was watered down due to Japan’s opposition.
Overall, the commitments made on energy transitions — with targets being set for solar and wind capacity additions — are more than what was initially expected. However, this may not be enough to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius target achievable.
A 10.8 TW renewable energy capacity is required by the end of the decade to keep up with the 1.5°C target, while the current world targets add up to just over half of what is needed, according to the intergovernmental organisation the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
High-tech industries and national security depend heavily on critical minerals such as lithium, nickel and cobalt, but these minerals are not distributed evenly across the world.
In recent years, this has created concerns regarding the vulnerability of supply chains and the potential for disruptions. G7 countries acknowledged the importance of critical minerals for the clean energy transition, and resolved to work to address vulnerabilities and diversify the source of these minerals.
There is a lack of clarity on how the G7 will increase the supply of these minerals without addressing geopolitical concerns around mineral extraction from poor countries.
While the communique mentions maintaining high social and governance standards, the concerns about the environmental and social impacts of mining for critical minerals and how this could further exacerbate existing inequalities remain.
The Group welcomed discussions on an ‘ambitious and fit-for-purpose’ new goal on financial flows from both public and private sources, consistent with Article 2.1c of the Paris Agreement. However, it did not include any financial commitment to energy transition for the developing countries.
On loss and damage, the G7 committed to working on the decisions agreed upon at COP27 to establish new funding arrangements, including a fund to assist developing countries. Furthermore, the statement referred to accelerating efforts for financing adaptation but did not go beyond reaffirming past commitments.
As developing countries continue to highlight the failure of rich countries to mobilise $100 billion a year, the communique refers to this mobilisation but does not add more to address this failure.
There have been regulatory concerns surrounding carbon markets and the issue of poor quality or fake credits floating around. These concerns seem to have resonated with rich countries, as they have highlighted the importance of ensuring high-integrity markets and have come up with a set of ‘Principles of High-Integrity Carbon Markets’.
This is over and above other principles being developed in the market, including the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market’s ‘Core Carbon Principles’.
The G7 countries committed themselves to the forum of ‘Climate Club’ proposed last year and established in December 2022 for ‘transitioning industries to climate-friendly processes and technologies’. However, the present meeting did not discuss an action agenda for the club.
The communique also recognised the risk of carbon leakage, where companies simply move their operations to countries with less stringent climate policies. Still, the statement stopped short of giving a plan on how to address the risk.
Other than this, the ministers made a pledge to end new plastic pollution by 2040.
The targets set for solar and wind capacity addition remained the highlight of the G7 commitment. It is also an indicator of what energy transition priorities are being considered by the Group with more weight thrown behind solar and wind than low-carbon technologies and ‘renewable hydrogen’.
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