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G7 pledges to speed up phase-out of fossil fuels but fails to agree on new deadline for coal

G-7 ministers on climate, energy and environment pose for a photo during its photo session in Sapporo, northern Japan, Saturday, April 15, 2023.
G-7 ministers on climate, energy and environment pose for a photo during its photo session in Sapporo, northern Japan, Saturday, April 15, 2023. Copyright Hiro Komae/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Hiro Komae/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
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Ministers say they will 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 Japan.

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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 communique laying out their commitments ahead of a G-7 summit in Hiroshima in May.

Japan won endorsements from fellow G-7 countries 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 communique says.

The leaders reiterated the need to urgently reduce carbon emissions and achieve a “predominantly decarbonized power sector” by 2035.

“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.

The stipulation that countries rely on “predominantly” clean energy by 2035 leaves room for the continuation of fossil-fuel-fired power. 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.

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John 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,” Kerry said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Hiro Komae/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Japan's Environment Minister Akihiro Nishimura at the G-7 ministers' meeting in Sapporo, Japan, April 15, 2023Hiro Komae/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Energy market disruptions

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 issue of setting a timeline for phasing out coal-fired power plants is a longstanding sticking point. Japan relies on coal for nearly one-third of its power generation and is also promoting the use of so-called clean coal, using technology to capture carbon emissions, to produce hydrogen — which produces only water when used as fuel.

The G-7 nations account for 40% of the world’s economic activity and a quarter of global carbon emissions. 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.

Financial support for Global South

The president-designate for the next United Nations climate talks, the COP28, who was also attending the talks in Sapporo, issued a statement urging G-7 nations to increase financial support for developing countries' transitions to clean energy.

Sultan Al Jaber urged fellow 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 a $100 billion pledge they made at the 2009 COP15 meeting. The next talks are to be held in Dubai in late November.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva issued a joint statement saying “We remain very concerned that funding provided by developed countries continues to fall short of the commitment of $100 billion per year.”

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Lula met with Xi in Beijing on Friday.

Ken Ishii/AP
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, right, with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, Friday, April 14, 2023.Ken Ishii/AP

Economic development is the first defence against climate change, Bhupender Yadav, India's environment minister, said in a tweet.

“The global goal of reaching net zero by 2050 needs enhanced emission descaling by developed nations,” Yadav said, to allow the space for countries like India to develop their economies, the best defence against the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and pollution.”

Differing energy strategies

The document crafted in Sapporo included significant amounts of nuance to allow for differences between the G-7 energy strategies, climate advocates said.

“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 ambitions,” Alden Meyer, a senior associate at E3G, a climate change think tank, said in a Twitter spaces session just after the communique was released.

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But while other G-7 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.

While the G-7 energy and environment ministers were wrapping up their meetings in Sapporo, farther south in the mountain city of Karuizawa G-7 foreign ministers were grappling with other shared concerns including regional security and the war in Ukraine.

The war has complicated efforts to switch to renewable energy by disrupting trade in oil and gas and pushing prices sharply higher. And it has to end for many reasons.

“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,” Kerry said, pointing to Germany's progress in embracing renewable energy.

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