Climate summits have come to feel like a TV series that has been stretched too long, and where any meaningful plot twist pushes us towards a new season.
The latest G7 energy and climate ministers’ meeting, which concluded on Sunday in Sapporo, Japan, delivered its fair share of inconclusive outcomes and left plenty of problems unsolved.
The group set higher targets for solar and wind power, pledging to increase total offshore wind capacity to 150 gigawatts and solar capacity to over 1 terawatt by 2030.
These numbers may seem high, but one might argue that these renewable industries are taking off on their accord, while paying scant regard to G7 targets.
Deploying wind and solar is a sensible, cost-effective and reliable means to achieve low-carbon, domestic power generation and ticks boxes on security of supply and affordability, so it’s a no-brainer for many world economies.
The G7 pushing the top number further afield adds little to that equation — unless it was aimed at diverting attention from areas where the group should have delivered more instead.
Similar and more meaningful commitments did not emerge, for instance, on thornier issues where inroads are needed, such as coal or fossil fuel phase-out.
The resolution agreed to “accelerate a phase-out of unabated fossil fuels” and vowed to “work to end new unabated coal-fired power generation projects globally as soon as possible”. If the wording sounds a tad obscure, that was probably what was intended.
The G7 communique sidesteps any timeline around which the group might have aligned, fails to elaborate on intermediate progress and carefully avoids any commitment that feels too real or accountable.
France’s Energy Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher commented to press agency AFP that the “phase-out” wording was nevertheless a “strong step forward” ahead of the G20 and COP28 summits later this year.
In other words, for anything more tangible, we are asked to tune in for the next episode. It’s a “tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow” attitude on a colossal scale.
Reports suggest infighting between G7 members, with imports-dependent Japan especially on the defensive, foiled efforts to lay a clearer deadline for coal.
The final communique the group agreed on may even suggest that coal-fired power may be fine, if coupled with carbon dioxide abatement. In a triumph of legalese, too much is left open to interpretation and future intervention.
Previous pledges on squeezing out fossil-fuel investments have been watered down — especially for gas — in response to the energy-security crisis that was triggered by the start of the Ukraine conflict.
The Sapporo summit has taken the practice to a new level, shying away from problematic statements and doubling down on vague pledges and inconsequential commitments.
Last year, the group also pledged to achieve a fully “or predominantly” decarbonised power sector by 2035, thus injecting a new element of uncertainty. Rather than helpfully clarifying that statement, this year’s communique “reaffirmed” that aim.
This approach falls short of what is expected by the world’s seven richest nations that are supposed to be at the forefront of the energy transition.
If the point of the G7 is to show that the largest share of global economic power, capital and political will can move in unison then, on climate matters, the group has tremendous capacity to act effectively and withstand backlash.
Clear commitment from these world leaders can give the market signals that lead to material change. That “strong step forward” could have been today.
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