‘Too little, too late’: G7 nations agree to phase out unabated coal by 2035

The G7 countries have declared a commitment to eliminate unabated coal-fired power plants by 2035. However, the agreement allows nations to continue using coal for electricity generation provided that the power plants are equipped with carbon capture technology to prevent emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

‘Too little, too late’: G7 nations agree to phase out unabated coal by 2035

The G7 nations have committed to contribute to a worldwide shift away from fossil fuels in energy systems.

After a series of discussions in Turin, Italy, the G7 forum consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, have agreed on new commitments and programmes to follow-up on the goals agreed at the UN COP28 to address the climate crisis.

These include a concerted effort to phase out fossil fuels, commencing with coal, and to stimulate the proliferation of renewable energy by increasing the energy storage capacity six-fold compared to current levels.

Nevertheless, the agreement provides flexibility for nations with significant coal dependencies, granting them the possibility of adhering to a timeline “consistent with keeping a limit of 1.5C temperature rise within reach in line with the country’s net-zero pathways”.

Additionally, the document focuses on ‘unabated coal’, meaning that countries can keep burning coal if the power plants have carbon capture technologies to prevent emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Ahead of the G7 meeting, the US unveiled a new series of standards for the local fossil-fuel industry, requiring all coal and natural gas plants to capture 90% of their carbon emissions.

According to the G7 forum, the agreement has been established in line with the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s pathway to net-zero by 2050 for the energy sector. However, the pathway requires not only a stop on any new unabated coal-fired power plants, but also no new coal mines or mine extension projects.

Yet, the world’s biggest coal power consumers, such as China and India, keep introducing new coal plants.

A transition away from fossil fuels

The G7 nations have committed to contribute to a worldwide shift away from fossil fuels in energy systems, as agreed at COP28, by creating and executing domestic plans, policies and measures.

As per the agreement, these efforts will inform and will be mirrored in the G7 countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Long-Term Strategies (LTSs). The nations have also urged other economies to follow suit.

We Mean Business Coalition’s director of policy Gillian Nelson said: “Italy and G7 nations seem to have understood their leadership is crucial to ensuring action to secure a stable, safe planet.

“The clear assertion their NDCs will include the commitment to phase out fossil fuels and scale up clean energy, and their recognition of the need for supportive finance to enable a global transition in line with 1.5C are immensely significant as countries prepare their own NDCs.”

Businesses are now urging the G7 to ensure financial actions fully align with plans to expedite the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels at the May meeting of G7 Finance Ministers.

While several environmental organisations have welcomed the announcement, they have expressed disappointment with its emphasis solely on coal, highlighting the importance of phasing out all fossil fuels to effectively mitigate carbon emissions at the necessary scale.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 1.5C-aligned pathway to a global net-zero energy system by 2050 includes an immediate halt to all upstream oil and gas projects with long lead times.

Despite this, the UK has introduced a new bill intended to expand oil and gas licensing, in a bid to ensure the nation’s energy security and lower energy bills. However, a study has found that the bill is unlikely to do any of those two things. 

Greenpeace International’s global climate politics expert Tracy Carty said: “The commitment to phase out coal is simply too little, too late.

“If they are serious and aligned with what the science says is needed to keep 1.5C within reach, G7 countries must ditch this dinosaur, planet-wrecking fuel no later than 2030. And the climate emergency demands they just don’t stop at coal.

“Fossil fuels are destroying people and planet and a commitment to rapidly phase out all fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – is urgently needed.”

Other G7 commitments

At the meeting, G7 nations also committed to collaborating on fusion energy and reducing reliance on Russian gas.

Additionally, they pledged to cut methane emissions, enhance critical raw material security and eliminate non-CO2 greenhouse gases.

Moreover, they proposed a ‘G7 Hub’ and ‘G7 Water Coalition’ to address adaptation challenges and committed to developing a voluntary agenda on circular textiles and fashion, prioritising a fair transition to clean energy in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

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