G7 Ministers set ‘bold’ new renewables goals but fail to close coal and gas loopholes
G7 nations have agreed new joint commitments to scale up offshore wind and solar generation capacity this decade, but Japan reportedly pushed to keep ‘loopholes’ regarding pledges to scale back fossil fuels.
The G7 comprises the UK, the US, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Japan.
Energy and environment ministers from each of these nations met in Sapporo, Japan, last week, in meetings that came to a close on Sunday (16 April). The result was a new communique on the energy transition that will support the main round of annual talks in May.
Observers have remarked that commitments made on renewables this year are far bolder than in previous iterations. The seven nations have jointly committed to increasing their offshore wind capacity by at least 150GW by 2030 and to collectively hosting at least 1TW of solar within the same timeframe.
Ember’s head of data insights Dave Jones called the potential impact of these statements “huge”. He added: “Hopefully this will provide a challenge to Japan, for which offshore wind is the missing part of the jigsaw that could see its power sector decarbonise much quicker than it thought possible.”
However, there is no word on any policy interventions and alterations being needed to reach these targets.
An existing commitment to deliver “predominantly” decarbonized electricity sectors by 2035 is reiterated in the communique. However, the wording of the text allows for differences in how each G7 nation interprets and delivers this target.
Flexibility given, in the communique, around how each nation strategically positions nuclear energy.
It states: “Those countries that opt to use nuclear energy recognize its potential to provide affordable low-carbon energy that can reduce dependence on fossil fuels, to address the climate crisis and to ensure global energy security as a source of baseload energy and grid flexibility.”
Such nations, the communique states, should seek to extend the life of existing reactors if safe to do so, and work to make the development of new reactors more cost-effective and rapid.
The communique was issued in the same weekend that Germany switched off its last three nuclear reactors. Germany has a powerful anti-nuclear movement and sees its energy transition relying almost entirely on renewables, in contrast to fellow G7 member France, which earlier this year launched a new nuclear alliance of 11 EU member states. The UK has also increased its support for nuclear under Rishi Sunak.
Additionally included in the commitment is a commitment for nations to collaborate more closely on policymaking for energy efficiency. G7 nations have asked the International Energy Agency (IEA) to “assess the impacts demand reductions measures have already had in response to current pressures to identify and share best practices, and make recommendations”.
The IEA has stated that global energy intensity needs to decrease by an average of 4% each year this decade. In contrast, the decrease in 2020 was 2%, even as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions forced industrial energy users to cut back.
Observers noted that hosts Japan, as expected, were not keen on strengthening language around phasing down gas-fired power generation. Japan has been pushing for natural gas to be classed as a transition fuel for at least 10 years as it seeks to replace its coal assets. Concerns had been expressed about the climate impacts of gas lock-in across all seven of the nations.
The communique states that gas “can be appropriate” to address potential market shortfalls resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war, but that investment should be “consistent” with climate objectives and minimize the risk of “lock-in”. Japan and other nations have hinted that they could meet the 2035 power sector ambition by retrofitting gas power plants with carbon capture technologies.
Japan’s industry minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told journalists: “In the midst of an unprecedented energy crisis, it’s important to come up with measures to tackle climate change and promote energy security at the same time.”
G7 members also stopped short of endorsing a 2030 deadline for ending all coal-fired power generation, with and without carbon capture. Canada had been spearheading calls to include this commitment in the communique.
“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. It claims that all members have already ended new direct government support for unabated coal-fired power generation domestically and internationally.
But it acknowledges that these moves alone are not enough to scale back fossil fuels globally in line with what climate scientists have warned is necessary. It adds: “We note with concern the large scale of private finance still supporting non-Paris aligned activities especially in the fossil fuel sector. We commit to promoting the increased international flow of public and private capital towards the Paris Agreement aligned investments.”
The latest edition of the Banking on Climate Chaos report, published last week, revealed that global banks have collectively funnelled more than $5.5trn into the fossil fuel sector over the past seven years. Many banks in the US, Canada, China and Europe are still funding the most destructive forms of fossil fuel expansion including tar sands and Arctic drilling, the report warned.
Also last week, the We Mean Business Coalition wrote to G7 leaders urging them to use May’s meeting to “course-correct to a safer, healthier and more prosperous future”. The coalition’s letter warned against a weakening of fossil fuel commitments and implored leaders to look more closely at the intersections between economic, social and environmental issues.