This week's G7 summit could impact Cop28

The grouping’s commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050 will serve as an underlining theme

The logo of Cop28 UAE during its official launch at the World Future Energy Summit 2023 in Abu Dhabi, on January 17. EPA
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This week's G7 summit will convene representatives from the world’s most advanced economies, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. In the run-up to the meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, the G7 foreign and environmental ministers convened to discuss a number of global challenges, including strengthening multilateralism and international co-operation; disarmament and non-proliferation; economic security; and tackling climate change.

The G7’s commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050 will serve as an underlining theme throughout the event – however, the course of action to reach such an ambitious goal remains fragmented among the G7 members. The current global energy crisis has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, which has dramatically affected the global energy landscape.

Skyrocketing energy costs because of the conflict has underscored the urgency for world governments to prioritise national energy security strategies, which rely on an uninterrupted, continuous availability of energy sources at a reasonable price. At its core, energy security serves as a precursor for driving economic growth, socio-political stability and prosperity for all.

G7 Summits are meant to facilitate collective action to co-ordinate policy solutions for today’s most pressing global challenges

Environmental ministers from the G7 nations met in mid-April to discuss the global climate crisis and the urgency of ensuring that the ongoing energy transition continues to gain momentum. That point was stressed by Dr Sultan Al Jaber, President-Designate of the Cop28 climate conference taking place in the UAE later this year, who was in attendance at the G7 ministerial climate meetings.

Dr Al Jaber contended that oil-producing nations must take an accelerated, but pragmatic, approach towards a clean energy transition whereby energy produced today – including that derived from fossil fuels – remains as “low-carbon-intensive as possible”, adding further: “Let’s remember that emissions are the enemy, not energy. We need maximum energy, minimum emissions to ensure sustainable economic and social development.”

Speaking at last week’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Germany, Dr Al Jaber repeated that the future of climate diplomacy should target oil and gas emissions in tandem with increasing carbon-capture technologies while expanding investment in zero-carbon alternatives with the intent to provide a more seamless, clean energy transition.

But for the world’s most advanced economies, agreeing on how exactly to go about achieving such laudable goals remains a challenge. During the April G7 ministerial meetings, the UK and Canada faced strong opposition in their attempts to mediate a 2030 deadline for an accelerated phase-out of unabated domestic coal-fired power. Japan, along with the US and EU (which participated in discussions as an invited guest) pushed back against such an accelerated timeline. Japan, which currently imports nearly 94 per cent of its energy needs, relies heavily on coal-fired power plants for domestic energy consumption, with coal accounting for a third of its overall energy mix.

Following the negative public sentiment after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, Tokyo planned to phase out atomic power. However, because of recent energy shortages, it has decided to re-launch national nuclear power generation, with the aim of increasing it from approximately 7 per cent today to a fifth of Japan’s total energy mix by the end of the decade.

Throughout the ministerial talks, Japan struggled to persuade its G7 counterparts to present new language in joint communiques to advocate for increased investments in natural gas exploration and production, which Japan views as necessary for a pivot towards a clean energy transition. Its suggestions were rejected by some other G7 members on the grounds that such investments would not help limit global warming to 1.5ºC, as agreed by in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

G7 summits are meant to facilitate collective action to co-ordinate policy solutions for today’s most pressing global challenges. Their weaknesses, however, include internal divisions, self-serving political motivations and, some would argue, limited influence (particularly without China as a member).

These weaknesses and the disagreements they create have the potential to undermine the group’s efforts when it comes to future climate considerations. What is important to watch, however, is whether the G7 nations’ positions will evolve or only become more entrenched during the G20 summit, to be held in September in India.

The G20, which represents 85 per cent of global GDP and two thirds of the world’s population, also includes the world’s top carbon emitters, including China, the US and India. From 2019 to 2021, G20 members spent nearly $55 billion per year financing fossil fuel projects. If the influential group that represents the largest economies (and emissions) on earth could find a way to agree on how to phase out unabated fossil fuels, such a decision would be pivotal in increasing the prospect of limiting the Earth’s temperatures to avoid crossing the 1.5ºC threshold.

It would also help to pave a path for major progress at Cop28 in November. Cop28 will be a critical moment for world governments to take stock of climate-action progress since signing the Paris Agreement in 2015, and will surely be a wake-up call to remind us that any inaction today will result in environmental devastation for generations to come.

Published: May 16, 2023, 7:00 AM