The Group of Seven (G7) leading economies have given support to the continued development of natural gas and carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure to boost energy security, but only if it helps progress renewable energy and sustainability efforts.

A summit of G7 energy and climate ministers met in Sapporo, Japan, over the weekend to discuss international climate goals and focused mainly on the roles of renewable energy and carbon mitigation in the path towards net-zero emissions.

The group announced major new wind and solar goals, targeting a collective increase in offshore wind capacity of 150 gigawatts by 2030.

The group’s support for a continued role for natural gas and liquefied natural gas was more muted, calling for the need to reduce gas demand and to use natural gas infrastructure for low-carbon hydrogen, but the decision to leave the door open to fossil-fuel use and investments dismayed environmental groups.

A 36-page report released at the end of the meeting underlined the role natural gas has played in underpinning global energy security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, and supported continued investments.

Referring to the energy crisis that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the report said: “Investment in the gas sector can be appropriate to help address potential market shortfalls provoked by the crisis, subject to clearly defined national circumstances, and if implemented in a manner consistent with our climate objectives and without creating lock-in effects, for example by ensuring that projects are integrated into national strategies for the development of low-carbon and renewable hydrogen.”

Carbon capture

As for CCS, the report stressed that carbon management methods such as natural carbon sinks and direct air capture, as well as bioenergy with carbon capture, were also essential to combat emissions from sectors that likely could not be fully decarbonised.

Carbon capture is seen as a controversial energy-transition technology when it is used on facilities such as refineries, as some environmental groups believe it will only prolong the use of fossil fuels.

But the G7 group added that “actions on furthering large-scale deployment of carbon capture technologies can lead to additional learning-by-doing cost reductions and improve economic growth”.

Regional CCS could play a role in expanding carbon storage and transport infrastructure, “in line with social acceptance”, the report said.

LNG boom

Although there was lukewarm support among the G7 climate ministers for LNG, investments in LNG are taking on boom proportions in key producing nations, and some producers do not seem too troubled by expectations on carbon mitigation.

In an encounter with investors last week, ConocoPhillips outlined plans to invest about $3.7 billion to expand its LNG portfolio in Qatar and Port Arthur in the US this decade, but made it clear that it does not see CCS or hydrogen playing a huge role in its short-term plans.

Although ConocoPhillips has been active in acquiring long-term leases apparently suitable for industrial carbon capture opportunities, the company’s has earmarked only $50 million a year towards CCS and hydrogen efforts.

“We don’t see hydrogen or CCS being a material part of our capital programme this decade, but something rather we’re positioning to understand and develop that could be interesting to the company in the longer term,” said Dominic Macklon, executive vice president of strategy for sustainability and technology.

Japan moves

The Sapporo report was the product of intense wrangling over a number of key issues, not least the energy-hungry host nation’s reluctance to endorse stronger commitments on phasing out fossil fuels.

The club of big economies — the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Japan and Italy, plus the European Union — promised to “drastically increase electricity generated by renewable energies, as well as the use of renewables in heating, cooling and the transportation”.

The report said that would be underpinned by “a collective increase in offshore wind capacity of 150 GW by 2030 based on each country’s existing targets and a collective increase of solar PV to more than 1 TW by 2030… through means such as each country’s existing targets or policy measures”.

In a nod to current concerns over the fragility of some parts of the renewable energy industry, the G7 also said it would focus on developing “secure, sustainable and resilient supply chains”.

Although the text did include a line reaffirming the G7’s commitment “to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest”, it failed to agree an early timeline for phasing out coal power, reportedly in the face of opposition from Japan.

Alden Meyer, a senior associate at climate consultancy E3G, a climate consultancy, said: “By failing to commit to fully decarbonising the power sector, to slashing road sector emissions and totally eliminate international fossil fuel finance, the ministers really missed an opportunity to provide leadership in addressing the climate emergency.”

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