G7 countries have pledged to end international funding for coal projects by 2021 and phase out "inefficient" fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
The agreements were made so as to reach climate change targets including limiting the rise of global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and reaching net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
A statement issued by the environment and climate ministers of the G7 recognised “that coal power generation is the single biggest cause of global temperature increases”.
“We commit now to rapidly scale-up technologies and policies that further accelerate the transition away from unabated coal capacity and to an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s, consistent with our 2030 National Determined Contributions and net zero commitments,” they said, following a virtual meeting.
Coal is regarded as unabated when it is burned for power or heat without using technology to capture the resulting emissions, a system not yet widely used in power generation.
The statement also says “we will phase out new direct government support for carbon intensive international fossil fuel energy, except in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country, in a manner that is consistent with an ambitious, clearly defined pathway towards climate neutrality in order to keep 1.5°C within reach”.
US climate envoy John Kerry called on G20 countries to follow the G7’s lead and adopt the measures agreed.
"We do call on all G20 countries now, and all other major economies to join with us. This is not just a one-off event, we hope. It is critical to the goals that we all have for Glasgow," he said.
The virtual meeting was hosted by the UK government, which is the current G7 president. The UK will also host the UN climate summit known as Cop26 later this year in Glasgow.
The G7 ministers also committed to protecting or conserving at least 30 per cent of the world’s land and seas by 2030.
Alok Sharma, the president of Cop26, said “we know we need to consign coal to history”.
A UK government statement said the G7 ministers had “secured historic commitments which will put climate, biodiversity and the environment” at the forefront of Covid-19 recovery efforts.
Mr Sharma welcomed climate targets from China, the world’s biggest polluter, but said more needed to be done in the short term. China has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
"Frankly what we really want to see are the near-term policies that will then help to deliver the longer-term targets and the whole of the Chinese system needs to deliver on what President Xi Jinping has set out as his policy goals," he said.
Greenpeace said some “useful steps forward” had been laid out in the G7 statement and described the pledge to end international coal funding as a “real positive”.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said it left "China isolated globally with its ongoing international financing for the most polluting fossil fuel".
“Unfortunately though, too many of these pledges remain vague when we need them to be specific and set out timetabled action. The commitment on sea and land protection has to be matched with legally binding targets internationally, a Global Ocean Treaty and strong measures domestically to ensure it happens,” she said.