G7 climate ministers’ communiqué is progress, but not nearly enough

Posted on 27 May 2021

The G7 Communiqué by Ministers of Climate & Environment undoubtedly represents progress and a renewed determination on the part of the G7 countries to accelerate action on nature and climate change, but the required urgency and clarity are not there yet, writes Mark Lutes, WWF Senior Advisor for Global Climate Policy.

'A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

Alice in Wonderland. Through the Looking-Glass

If a climate activist from the 1990s had reached through a looking glass into today’s world, and picked up the 2021 G7 Climate and Environment Ministers’ statements issued last Friday, she would have been very impressed.

To a 1990s reader, things like eliminating government support for fossil fuel energy, reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, ending new investments in coal power generation, transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables, ending subsidies to damaging activities, a deadline for reversing biodiversity loss, would have been ground-breaking developments, wondrous even. 

On climate, specifically,  these were exactly the kinds of things governments should have been doing back in the 1990s to prevent the dangerous build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that threaten to put our climate targets out of reach.

But 20-odd years and several hundred billion tonnes of COemissions later, there is no longer any guarantee that such measures will be enough to limit warming to 1.5°C and protect the most vulnerable people from climate change impacts, including nature. After taking such a long time to get serious about climate change, they now have to be undertaken with an urgency and determination that would not have been required 20 years ago.

As we rapidly exhaust the planet’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gas emissions, we have to reduce emissions faster and faster to keep pace with the rapidly dwindling allowable carbon budget. Like Alice’s race with the Red Queen, we have to run faster and faster to avoid falling behind.

Now any caveats, loopholes, or exemptions that delay or weaken the actions that scientists agree are necessary are cause for concern.

The G7 Communiqué by Ministers of Climate & Environment undoubtedly represent progress and a renewed determination on the part of the G7 countries to accelerate action both on nature and on climate change on some key aspects such as the  transition away from coal to renewables, the protection and restoration of  nature and biodiversity, and a green and just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there are hints throughout the text that the required urgency, clarity and determination are not quite there yet.

On climate specifically, the Communiqué doesn’t call for completely eliminating all fossil fuel subsidies, but rather for elimination of “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies, whatever they are. Leaving considerable room for interpretation, as has happened in the past. 

In place of an end to investments in new coal and eliminating coal burning altogether, the document calls for stopping “international” investments in “unabated” coal.

We need governments to end all of their support for fossil fuels (use of which according to any of the IPCC 1.5°C scenarios should have peaked by 2020) and instead support clean energy. Instead, we hear “we will phase out new direct government support for carbon intensive international fossil fuel energy, except in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country”. One wonders what indirect support is coming, what is considered not to be “carbon intensive (natural gas, perchance?), and whether the allowed discretion will be the better part of valour or just an excuse to avoid taking courageous actions.

This is not the final word from the G7 group of wealthy developed economies this year. The Finance Ministers meeting (4-5 June) and Leaders Summit (11-13 June) will provide other chances this year to clarify and strengthen their actions, including concrete steps to increase their finance contributions towards the annual US$100 billion climate finance commitment.

Strong leadership now will be decisive for ambitious outcomes from the G20 and COP26 later this year.

The G7 Ministers of Climate and Environment met last week in preparation for the summit taking place 11-13 June, 2021.
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