WASHINGTON – Leaders of the G-7 rich country club made major symbolic strides towards consolidating global climate action at their UK summit, but did not explain in detail how to tackle two of the most pressing challenges. more urgent: the phase-out of coal and the financing of the energy of the developing world transition.
With palpable relief after four years of former President Donald Trump’s presence, G-7 leaders praised President Joe Biden and sought to marry their own climate efforts to his national political agenda, uniting under the aegis of “rebuilding better”. They also rallied to the pledge to conserve 30% of land and oceans by 2030, a goal Biden had already set for the United States.
“You know, the last time we had a president who basically said, ‘Global warming is okay,'” Biden said at a press conference closing his trip to the Cornwall summit. , in England. “This is the existential problem facing humanity, and it has been dealt with that way.
But climate analysts, eyeing the G-7’s pledge to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, left the summit frustrated by the failure to commit to specific measures widely recognized as essential to achieving this. goal. The continuous burning of coal to generate electricity, for example, is widely accepted as being counterproductive in avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
“These are the seven countries that need to take the lead,” said Rachel Kyte, former World Bank climate special envoy and dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Borrowing a phrase from the current European Football Championship, she added: “It was an open goal, and they missed it.”
The United States and its G-7 allies reaffirmed their commitment, first made in 2009, to collectively contribute $ 100 billion per year by 2020 to help the poorest countries reduce their emissions and protect against the growing effects of climate change. This goal of $ 100 billion was never achieved. But the nations still pledged to respect this figure, while extending the deadline to reach it until 2025.
Yet the joint communiqué that codifies the agreements reached at the summit did not include any new specific commitments on how countries would reach that figure. The United States is billions behind in writing checks for promises it has made in the past.
“They reaffirmed a goal that has been around for a decade, but they did not say how it was going to be achieved,” said David Waskow, international climate director for the nonprofit World Resources Institute.
More encouraging signs emerged in the hours following the end of the summit, with Canada announcing it would double its annual pledge to US $ 4.4 billion by 2025, and Germany saying it would triple it. during this period, to over $ 7 billion.
“It’s really beautiful to see,” said Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The United States, on the other hand, “has not put any clear ambition on the table” in terms of global financing, she added.
The G-7 countries have pledged to halve their emissions by 2030 and eliminate them from their economies by 2050. This has marked progress since the last G-7 summits, but not has not moved the ball of which countries, including the United States has already committed. The UK and the EU, in fact, have already pledged to cut much more in an even quicker timeframe.
And while executives have promised to “speed up the transition from new sales of diesel and gasoline cars” to promote electric vehicles, they have not set a deadline to phase out gas-guzzling vehicles, as some countries had. hoped before the summit.
On coal-fired power plants, the G-7 countries have set a deadline for next year to stop funding “the relentless international production of thermal coal-fired electricity.” This is important, given that the world’s largest emitter, China, continues to fund new coal-fired power plants abroad.
Yet the cautious wording of the G-7 leaders leaves room for maneuver to continue funding coal-fired power plants that use carbon capture technology to sequester and store the carbon dioxide emitted by burning coal.
Perhaps the most glaring omission of the G-7 climate deal, according to conservationists, is the lack of a deadline for when nations will stop burning coal at home.
When the nations’ environment ministers came together virtually in May to lay the groundwork for this month’s summit, they jointly pledged to achieve an “overwhelmingly carbon-free electricity system in the 2030s,” a technical speech to say that the very polluting coal plants would be phased out by the end of the next decade.
But when Biden and other leaders emerged from the meeting, that language was missing from their statement, which instead pledged to simply “further accelerate the transition to unabated coal capacity” without specifying a date.
Jason Bordoff, a White House National Security Council official in the Obama administration, said the Biden administration’s criticism on this point was misplaced, given that Biden has already set himself the goal that the US electricity will be carbon neutral by 2035. That goal largely involves phasing out coal anyway, as well as cleaner combustion sources like natural gas.
“All the growth in coal use is happening in emerging markets and developing economies, so the G-7’s agreement not to fund new coal projects is very important, along with the pledge of aid. to help countries move away from fossil fuels, ”said Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.
Yet the G-7 summit in Cornwall was perhaps the last and best chance for the world’s wealthiest democracies to increase their influence over China and other major emitters by uniting around specific common objectives well before November. That’s when leaders will gather in Scotland for a much-anticipated UN climate conference.
All other venues for high-level global diplomacy ahead of this conference – including the United Nations General Assembly in September in New York and the G-20 summit in October in Rome – will include China.