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In a communique released this weekend from the G7 meeting in Hiroshima, the G7 took a substantive step that undercuts previous commitments to achieve net carbon emissions neutrality by 2050. The G7 stated that it was endorsing a “temporary response” to endorse “publicly supported investment in the gas sector.” In addition, the G7 focused on phasing out “unabated fossil fuels.” That means fossil fuel activities that involve carbon capture would not be phased out, even as carbon capture technology is costly and highly ineffective.
In part, the communique declared:
We underline our commitment, in the context of a global effort, to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest in line with the trajectories required to limit global average temperatures to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels, and call on others to join us in taking the same action. We reaffirm our commitment to the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 or sooner, and reaffirm our previous calls for all countries to do so. In view of the emerging need for net-zero and circular industrial supply chains in the transformation towards a 1.5°C pathway, we recognize the opportunities associated with decarbonized, sustainably and responsibly produced non-combustion feedstocks, and are committed to supporting our workers and communities in this transformation. We also highlight that we ended new direct public support for the international unabated fossil-fuel energy sector in 2022, except in limited circumstances clearly defined by each country consistent with a 1.5 °C warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement, recognizing the importance of national security and geostrategic interests. It is necessary to accelerate the phase out of our dependency on Russian energy, including through energy savings and gas demand reduction, in a manner consistent with our Paris commitments, and address the global impact of Russia’s war on energy supplies, gas prices and inflation, and people’s lives, recognizing the primary need to accelerate the clean energy transition. In this context, we stress the important role that increased deliveries of LNG can play, and acknowledge that investment in the sector can be appropriate in response to the current crisis and to address potential gas market shortfalls provoked by the crisis. In the exceptional circumstance of accelerating the phase out of our dependency on Russian energy publicly supported investment in the gas sector can be appropriate as a temporary response, subject to clearly defined national circumstances, if implemented in a manner consistent with our climate objectives without creating lock-in effects, for example by ensuring that projects are integrated into national strategies for the development of low-carbon and renewable hydrogen.
This statement, even as it rhetorically acknowledges net zero emissions by 2050 and the need to hold warming to 1.5°C is deficient, for several reasons:
- There was no call for a rapid phaseout of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.
- The focus was on phasing out “unabated fossil fuels” not the burning of fossil fuels.
- Rather than calling for more efficient distribution of existing LNG supplies and an accelerated scaling up of clean energy to meet the energy challenges posed by Russia, the statement endorsed investment in the gas sector that will increase its production capacity. Additional production will be pursued by industry participants to earn profits. That additional production will lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions than would otherwise be the case, further complicating the effort to limit warming to 1.5°C.
- In public policy, “temporary” measures have often taken on extended lives. Some have even become permanent.
In the end, the summit’s decision is a setback to global efforts to address climate change. It also raises renewed questions about the credibility of the G7’s commitments to address the problem. Commitments are only credible when they are backed by the policies and investment required to achieve them. Contradictory measures undermine the possibility of achieving commitments.