Energy and environment ministers of the Group of Seven wealthy nations vowed Sunday to work to hasten the shift toward cleaner, renewable energy, but set no timetable for phasing out coal-fired power plants as they wrapped up two days of talks in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo.
The officials issued a 36-page communiqué laying out their commitments ahead of a G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, The Associated Press reports.
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“The G7 countries have agreed that the first response to the energy crisis must be to reduce energy and gas consumption,” said France’s energy transition minister, Agnes Pannier-Runacher. “For the first time ever, the G7 said we must accelerate the phasing out of all unabated fossil fuels… Finally, it sent a message about accelerating renewable energy.”
Japan, which holds this year’s G7 presidency, won endorsements from the six other participating countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States—for its own national strategy emphasizing so-called clean coal, hydrogen, and nuclear energy to help ensure its energy security.
“Recognizing the current global energy crisis and economic disruptions, we reaffirm our commitment to accelerating the clean energy transition to net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 at the latest,” the communiqué says.
But Canada, the UK, and France still pushed back on Japan’s plan to pitch coal-derived hydrogen and ammonia as low-carbon fuels, while U.S. climate envoy John Kerry declared the idea absurd, saying it could pose “serious problems and significant challenges,” said climate diplomacy veteran Ed King.
The leaders reiterated the need to urgently reduce carbon emissions and achieve a “predominantly decarbonized power sector” by 2035, AP writes.
“We call on and will work with other countries to end new unabated coal-fired power generation projects globally as soon as possible to accelerate the clean energy transition in a just manner,” the document says.
Ember clean power specialist Dave Jones took that as a signal that “solar and wind are lined up and ready for take-off.” The language in the closing statement “shows they plan to install x2.4 more per of solar from 2023 to 2030 than 2022, and six times more for offshore wind,” Jones wrote. “It is great to see the G7 align with the IPCC, which is very clear that solar and wind are the biggest and cheapest tools in the toolbox to reduce emissions this decade.”
While there are no explicit, quantified commitments in the communiqué, the G7 “impressively pledged to phase out fossil fuels,” Jones added, and shows installed solar capacity reaching 1,000 gigawatts by 2030, a target that would translate to 85 GW per year through the remaining years of this decade.
The stipulation that countries rely on “predominantly” clean energy by 2035 leaves room for continuation of fossil-fuel fired power, AP says. But the ministers agreed to prioritize steps toward phasing out “unabated” coal power generation—plants that do not employ mechanisms to capture emissions and prevent them from escaping into the atmosphere.
Kerry said the meetings were “really constructive.”
“I think the unity for the goal that was expressed of phasing out unabated fossil fuels is a very important statement,” he told AP.
The call to action comes as China and other developing countries step up demands for more help in phasing out fossil fuels and stabilizing energy prices and supplies amid disruptions from Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The timeline for phasing out coal plants is a longstanding sticking point among G7 nations. Japan relies on coal for nearly one-third of its power generation and is also promoting the use of so-called clean coal to produce hydrogen. In the lead-up to the meeting, there were serious concerns that disagreements on a 2030 coal phaseout could signal weakening resolve ahead of this year’s COP 28 climate negotiations in Dubai.
But the insistence on “abated” coal won’t be good news for the industry’s proponents. Recent analysis shows that coal-fired power plants, which already cost more to own and operate than utility-scale solar or wind with storage, could become 1½ times to twice as expensive with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology bolted on.
“The cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) remains unclear as no known new power plants have been built with the technology installed and operating at commercial scale,” the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis reported last month. Within the industry, “optimism bias is rampant, favouring CCS as a decarbonization and ‘sustainable’ solution in the power sector, but who ends up paying for it is an uncertainty adding to the financing risk.”
An earlier draft of the G7 communiqué also included language “touting growing future demand for liquefied natural gas,” Reuters reported last week. But phrasing calling for “necessary upstream investments in LNG and natural gas” was dropped in the lead-up to the ministerial meeting.
“It was not clear from the document why the language was changed,” Reuters wrote. “But Italy, Germany, France, and the European Union had opposed the initial proposal on LNG demand increasing, the draft showed.”
The G7 nations account for 40% of the world’s economic activity and a quarter of global carbon emissions, AP notes. Their actions are critical, but so is their support for less wealthy nations often suffering the worst effects of climate change while having the fewest resources for mitigating such impacts.
Emissions in advanced economies are falling, though historically they have been higher—the United States alone accounts for about a quarter of historic global carbon emissions—while emerging markets and developing economies now account for more than two-thirds of global carbon emissions.
The president-designate for COP 28, who was also attending the talks in Sapporo, issued a statement calling on G7 nations to increase financial support for developing countries’ transitions to clean energy. Sultan Al Jaber urged leaders to help deliver a “new deal” on climate finance to boost efforts to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change and help protect biodiversity, especially in developing nations.
“We must make a fairer deal for the Global South,” he said. “Not enough is getting to the people and places that need it most.”
He said developed countries must follow through on the US$100-billion-per-year climate finance pledge they made at the 2009 COP 15 meeting in Copenhagen. Rich countries subsequently postponed the self-declared, 11-year deadline on that promise from 2020 to 2023.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva weighed in with their own joint statement on climate finance. “We remain very concerned that funding provided by developed countries continues to fall short of the commitment of $100 billion per year,” they said.
Lula met with Xi in Beijing on Friday.
India’s environment minister, Bhupender Yadav, tweeted that economic development is the first defence against climate change, environmental degradation, and pollution.
“The global goal of reaching net zero by 2050 needs enhanced emission descaling by developed nations,” Yadav said, to allow space for countries like India to develop their economies.
The document crafted in Sapporo included significant amounts of nuance to allow for differences between the G7 energy strategies, climate advocates said. Although the worst possible outcomes of the meeting were averted, climate hawks weren’t fully satisfied with the final result.
“They put out bold language on the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, but the real test is what are they saying to the rest of the world about their commitments to scale up ambition,” said COP veteran Alden Meyer, a senior associate at the E3G climate think tank.
While other G7 countries prevented Japan from expanding loopholes to allow wider use of fossil fuels, the commitments “fall short of the clarion call to action that was needed,” Meyer said.
“After some worrying initial drafts, the final G7 communiqué committed to phasing in the good by drastically increasing wind and solar capacity, and to eliminate the bad with a phaseout of fossil fuels, albeit unabated,” Caroline Brouillette, interim executive director of Climate Action Network-Canada, said in a statement. “This signal sent ahead of the G20 and in the lead up to COP 28 is unfortunately weakened by the lack of a deadline on coal power, and the absence of clear commitments to fully decarbonizing the power and transportation sectors.
“To be taken seriously,” she added, “rich countries’ need to step up on shifting financial flows and providing their fair share of climate finance, including for loss and damage.”
While the G7 energy and environment ministers were wrapping up their meetings in Sapporo, farther south in the mountain city of Karuizawa, G7 foreign ministers were grappling with other shared concerns including regional security, the war in Ukraine, and its impact on the price of oil and gas, AP writes.
“It’s insane and tragic,” Kerry said, but phasing out carbon emissions can and must continue.
“I think energy security is being exaggerated in some cases,” he added, pointing to Germany’s progress in embracing renewable energy.
King said the two G7 meetings set a course for a fossil fuel phaseout agreement at COP 28 and a deal to peak global emissions by 2025. “The G7 has opened the door for a COP 28 fossil fuel phaseout deal,” he headlined in an analysis for Business Green. “Last weekend’s G7 summit sent the message that fossil fuels are not part of the future.”
Major segments of this report was written by the Associated Press and republished by The Canadian Press on April 16, 2023.
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