Ahead of the upcoming G7 summit in Hiroshima, the G7 energy and environment ministers issued a communique that includes a commitment to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels.
While the enhanced ambition on renewable energy and agreement to cut gas consumption is welcome, the G7 ministers stopped short of a gas exit timeline.
It is time for G7 countries to walk the difficult road to net zero and commit to dates for phasing out all fossil fuels – not just coal – in the near future.
The Group of Seven (G7) wealthy nations, comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, are the historical contributors to climate change and have been called upon time and again to enhance their renewable energy ambition and phase out all fossil fuels.
As recently as March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Synthesis Report, underscored the urgency of taking more ambitious action and calls for rapidly shifting away from burning fossil fuels – the number one cause of the climate crisis. The report also emphasised the urgent need for systemwide transformations to secure a net-zero, climate-resilient future.
In April, the G7 members – accounting for around 40% of the global economy, 30% of energy demand and 25% of energy system carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – finally delivered on calls to take action to mitigate climate change.
The energy and environment ministers of the G7 countries issued a 36-page communique laying out their commitments ahead of the upcoming G7 summit in Hiroshima. The enhanced commitment by the G7 countries, which aligns with the IPCC, is a welcome move, but now it is time to walk the difficult road to net zero.
The G7 countries have committed to increasing solar capacity to more than 1 terawatt (TW) and offshore wind to 150 gigawatt (GW) by 2030, implying a quantum jump in annual capacity addition. Further, the communique discusses a decarbonised power sector and 100% electrified vehicles in new passenger car sales by 2035.
The increased adoption of clean technologies in G7 nations will drive the prices down, not only helping them to reduce emissions but enabling price-sensitive emerging economies in the Global South to increase the adoption of such technologies as well.
However, the commitment to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels came without a timeline to exit gas. While the world was hoping the G7 would take a leap and commit to exiting not only coal but also gas, they have not lived up to this expectation.
At the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), India demanded that the world consider phasing down all fossil fuels, not just coal, to contain global warming to 1.5°C. While some countries supported this ask, others with oil and gas-reliant economies strongly resisted.
An agreement to phase out or phase down coal that does not include other fossil fuels puts disproportionate pressure on emerging countries in the Global South, such as India, which have low per capita electricity consumption and have to meet huge incremental energy needs for their growing populations.
While the Global North committed US$100 billion of investment in 2009 to help countries in the Global South to adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature by 2020, they have broken their promise and further extended the timeline. On the other hand, the commitment to meet energy transition goals has increased multifold.
The various countries are on different paths of development and industrialisation. Thus developed countries will have to play a larger role in the deployment of clean energy technologies and invest in research and development of new technologies and provide access to technology and finance to the countries in the Global South.
In addition, the G7 should invest in developing a circular economy and use resources more efficiently. Recycling and reuse of solar waste and building supply chains will go a long way in helping to meet these timelines.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres has rightly warned, time is running out to meet the 1.5C limit on global temperature rise. Countries must change course before it is too late. Accordingly, the G7 countries should raise the bar and set more ambitious targets and commitment dates for phasing out all fossil fuels in the near future.
This commentary was first published by the Economic Times.