G7 nations ‘burying heads in sand’ on climate change with ‘temporary’ gas investments

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  • During Hiroshima summit, nations emphasised the need to end dependence on Russian energy while balancing their commitment to clean energy transition
  • They said more cash for liquefied natural gas is temporary solution while replacing supply of gas from Moscow amid Ukraine war; experts say this is step backwards

G7 nations over the weekend pledged to mitigate climate change while condemning Russia’s war on Ukraine, but climate experts say the rich nations have sent a mixed message for sustainable development with their call to step up investment in gas.

In its statement over the weekend, the group underscored the need to end their dependence on Russian energy, while balancing their commitment to a clean energy transition. Simultaneously, the G7 said higher gas supplies can help potential shortfalls due to the Russia-Ukraine war.

It said more investment in liquefied natural gas (LNG) – which produces less carbon dioxide than coal and oil and is the cleanest of the fossil fuels – can be a “temporary response” to the circumstances, but climate analysts said this would be a step backwards.

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“The G7 is ignoring the International Energy Agency’s call to refrain from any new investments into fossil fuels, not just coal, to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. In fact, the G7 seems to be strengthening the role of gas,” said Friederike Roder, Vice-President for Global Advocacy at action platform Global Citizen, which is dedicated to ending extreme poverty.

“The G7 is not just burying their heads in the sand in the face of the climate crisis; collectively they have renounced taking a leadership role ahead of COP28,” he said, referring to the United Nations climate change conference scheduled for the year-end.

The G7 is an informal grouping of seven of the world’s advanced economies – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. Russia used to be a member – making up the G8 – until it was excluded after its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.

Before the Russia-Ukraine war began last year, Moscow accounted for over 40 per cent of the European Union’s gas supplies and was one of the largest suppliers of energy to Europe, but the region has been able to reduce its dependency mainly through LNG imports.

Top energy consumer China’s post-Covid reopening this year has triggered concerns among Western nations that there could be a shortage of LNG availability. The biggest exporters of LNG are the US, Australia and Qatar, but exports are running near full capacity.

Nevertheless, analysts said the G7 statement should have been stronger on the impacts of global warming.

Petter Lyden, Head of International Climate Policy at Germanwatch, a human rights organisation which pushes for sustainable global development, said the official statement for more investment in gas showed a “serious disconnect with science” to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degree Celsius.

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“Faced with the urgent need to phase out fossil fuels, what leaders have brought to the table represents an endorsement of new fossil gas,” said Tracy Carty, Global Climate Politics Expert at Greenpeace International, after the G7 nations stressed “the important role that increased deliveries of LNG can play, and acknowledge that investment in the sector can be appropriate in response to the current crisis and to address potential gas market shortfalls provoked by the crisis”.

G7 officials also, though, issued a communique laying out their commitments, pledging to collectively increase offshore wind capacity by 150 gigawatts by 2030 and solar capacity to more than 1 terawatt.

And the powerful body reaffirmed it would eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and phase out new coal-fired power plants, but did not set any timeline.

The group also vowed that in 2023 it would fulfil a promise to provide US$100 billion per year to help poorer countries cope with climate change – the deadline for which had been previously extended from 2020 to 2025 – besides help address crises like food shortages.

Some experts welcomed the group’s promise to work towards clean energy, while others said the statement was short on a detailed plan to achieve the goal.

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“While it is encouraging to see a commitment to finally meet the US$100 billion international climate finance promise in 2023 – three years late – no new pledges have been made to give this promise some credibility,” Global Citizen’s Roder said.

Another climate executive criticised summit host Japan for not pushing for stronger climate action.

“Japan didn’t prioritise the climate agenda throughout the negotiation, but rather blocked key issues that needed to be progressed, such as setting a timeline for coal phase out and 100 per cent ZEVs (Zero Emission Vehicles),” said Kimiko Hirata, Executive Director of Climate Integrate, which promotes decarbonisation.

On the other hand, Japan’s energy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura characterised the G7 communique as “ambitious” and praised the group for “recognising diverse paths towards carbon neutrality” during the energy crisis.

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Climate expert Gillian Nelson, Policy Director of the We Mean Business Coalition – a global non-profit focused on working with firms to tackle climate change – said the G7’s statement showed that it was keen on green energy.

“This is good news for companies committed to the global clean energy transition, and needs to now be translated into national policies that inform diplomatic priorities and investments.”

The G7’s stance will bolster global collaboration on clean energy and will help companies and industries to decarbonise their supply chains, Nelson added.

But another international development expert called for more action to fulfil climate goals.

“At a time of great jeopardy we need concrete commitments of significant new finance to tackle poverty and climate change,” said David McNair, Executive Director of the ONE Campaign, the anti-poverty organisation founded by U2 singer Bono.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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