Two weeks ago, the G7 world leaders, heads of state from seven of the world’s largest advanced democracies and economies, including Canada, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, gathered for the G7 Summit in Cornwall, England. The event was long-overdue and marked the first time the world leaders have met in almost two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most important annual events, because in the course of this meeting, world leaders generally lay out their responses to global challenges, shape political discourse with regards to climate change, and work together to strengthen the economic wellbeing of nations across the globe.
Global leadership is critical to making progress on climate change and broader environmental initiatives. At the forum, the climate stage was set when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson the host of this year’s Summit, set out his intention to tackle the climate crisis, protect the natural environment, and ‘build back better for the world’.
In the English county of Cornwall over the weekend of 11-13th June, the G7 – group of seven – world leaders appeared to agree that this is crucial if we are to determine a favourable outcome for our communal future as well as our environment.
Here are five major developments and takeaways about the climate and environment from this year’s G7 Summit:
1. Recommitment to the Paris Agreement
Back in December 2015, world leaders gathered for COP21 in Paris, came to a climate consensus and signed the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted by 196 parties. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below two, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. At this year’s G7 Summit, leaders once again expressed their commitment to the agreement. As part of that reaffirmation, the leaders of seven of the world’s biggest economies committed to ensuring that the 1.5 degrees target is on course.
This is to be achieved through “strengthening adaptation and resilience to protect people from the impacts of climate change, halting and reversing biodiversity loss, mobilising finance and leveraging innovation”. It is fair to point out here that since 2015, none of the nations who ratified the Paris Agreement has reached their goals. The countries who have come quite close in this regard can attribute any progress made to the slump in energy use due to the pandemic. Therefore, in my opinion, a recommitment is nothing but playing to the gallery unless these goals are backed up with firm timelines or measurables.
2. Zero by 50
At the Summit, the G7 leaders collectively pledged to increase their carbon emission reduction targets. The new goal is to collectively cut emissions by half by 2030 based on 2010 levels. The UK, perhaps as this year’s Summit host, is leading the way with Boris Johnson set to cut emissions by at least 68% by 2030 based on 1990 levels.
In addition, the new targets call for the accomplishment of net zero emissions by 2050. Japan had agreed to wind down its more inefficient, old coal power stations, while Canada pledged to reach net zero by 2050. This pledge is a rallying cry as the Summit urged other countries to band together in a global effort to combat carbon emissions and climate change.
3. Catalyse technology towards net zero
Progress cannot be made towards zero emissions without the right policies. Ahead of the gathering, ministers in finance environment and energy hammered out some breakthrough agreements, including making it mandatory for big businesses to disclose the climate impacts of their operations by 2022; to protect 30% of their country’s land and sea by 2030, in line with scientific advice; and to stop funding coal generation around the world by year’s end, an important step to phase out the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel.
The G7 leaders also committed to support the technological innovation needed to transition to net zero. They noted that the most urgent and polluting activities must be tackled as a priority. The deployment of renewable energy will be accelerated as a matter of urgency. In transport, they committed to accelerating the decarbonisation of the industry through the use of zero emission vehicles. These commitments contrast however with the refusal of a proposal to phase out the development and production of diesel and petrol cars. The leaders also called for an urgent change in the way we consume energy. They also welcomed the efforts of the energy efficiency industry to double the efficiency of various appliances and equipment by 2030.
4. Cold on coal
The G7 acknowledged the impact of coal on the environment and its harmful contributions to global carbon emissions. To this end, the leaders agreed towards a faster phasing away of coal plants. As a more immediate measure, by the end of 2021, their governments will end direct support for coal plants and projects which do not have the technology to capture carbon emissions
While this is some progress, it falls woefully short of the expectations around coal. The hopes before the meeting was that the leaders would commit to a target date for a total phasing out of coal. After the Summit, Extinction Rebellion (XR) parked a van across a road near the venue in protest. It didn’t affect much; most of the leaders had already left. My personal highlight is that the leaders greed to offer up to £2 billion ($2.8 billion) to help developing countries shift away from using coal.
5. The 30×30 initiative
I believe this is the biggest environmental triumph of the Summit. The leaders created the G7 2030 Nature Compact, a pledge to protect biodiversity, tackle deforestation and halt and reverse biodiversity loss by the year 2030. The major priorities of this campaign are:
i) an agreement to support new global targets to protect and conserve at least 30% of global land and at least 30% of global ocean by 2030 by effectively protecting and conserving the same percentage of their national land, inland waters and coastal and marine areas by 2030.
ii) a commitment to prioritize the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in co-design, decision-making and implementation of the systems change needed for the Nature Compact’s success.
iii) a pledge to dramatically increase investment in nature from all sources including the percentage of public climate finance directed towards nature.
The compact also commits to tackle marine litter and illegal wildlife trade. In figures, the compact’s target of conserving 30% of global land and at least 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030 is now known as the 30×30 initiative. Once again, the UK seems to be setting the pace as its Prime Minister announced a £500 million Blue Planet Fund to help tackle unsustainable fishing, protect and restore coral reefs, and reduce marine pollution (though as reported by the Guardian, the pledge was made in 2019 and isn’t new funding at all).
The biggest disappointment of this leadership gathering however, was the failure of the G7 to make good on its promise to support developing nations in their battle against climate change. The G7 had made a pledge to support the countries with $100 billion a year in “climate finance” by 2020. Developing nations such as mine currently bear the brunt of climate change, mostly caused by nations such as the G7. A fulfilment of their pledge will send a strong message that their commitment towards climate action is not just all talk.
While the Summit could be described as an environmental success, there are a lot of shortcomings especially in the finer details. And as this CNN article describes it, the devil lies in its lack of specifics. For the environmental community, expectations now lie with the COP26 in Glasgow.
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Cover image via Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing St.