Energy and environment ministers of the Group of Seven wealthy nations vowed Sunday to work to hasten the shift toward cleaner, renewable energy, but set no timetable for phasing out coal-fired power plants as they wrapped up two days of talks in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo.
The officials issued a 36-page communique laying out their commitments ahead of a G-7 summit in Hiroshima in May.
Japan won endorsements from fellow G-7 countries for its own national strategy emphasizing so-called clean coal, hydrogen and nuclear energy to help ensure its energy security.
“Recognizing the current global energy crisis and economic disruptions, we reaffirm our commitment to accelerating the clean energy transition to net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 at the latest,” the communique says.
“We call on and will work with other countries to end new unabated coal-fired power generation projects globally as soon as possible to accelerate the clean energy transition in a just manner,” the document says.
The leaders reiterated the need to urgently reduce carbon emissions and achieve a “predominantly decarbonized power sector” by 2035. They also stressed the importance of ensuring supplies of critical minerals, used in many high-tech products, are stable and conform to high social and environmental standards.
“I believe that we were able to demonstrate to the international community that our commitment to climate change and environmental issues is unwavering, even in the context of the situation in Ukraine,” Akihiro Nishimura, Japan’s environment minister, said after the talks ended.
The stipulation that countries rely on “predominantly” clean energy by 2035 leaves room for continuation of fossil-fuel fired power. But the ministers agreed to prioritize steps toward phasing out “unabated” coal power generation — plants that do not employ mechanisms to capture emissions and prevent them from escaping into the atmosphere.
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said the meetings were “really constructive.”
“I think the unity for the goal that was expressed of phasing out unabated fossil fuels is a very important statement,” Kerry said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The call to action comes as China and other developing countries step up demands for more help in phasing out fossil fuels and stabilizing energy prices and supplies amid disruptions from Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The issue of setting a timeline for phasing out coal-fired power plants is a longstanding sticking point. Japan relies on coal for nearly one-third of its power generation and is also promoting the use of so-called clean coal, using technology to capture carbon emissions, to produce hydrogen — which produces only water when used as fuel.
The G-7 nations account for 40% of the world’s economic activity and a quarter of global carbon emissions. Their actions are critical, but so is their support for less wealthy nations often suffering the worst effects of climate change while having the fewest resources for mitigating such impacts.
Emissions in advanced economies are falling, though historically they have been higher — the United States alone accounts for about a quarter of historic global carbon emissions — while emerging markets and developing economies now account for more than two-thirds of global carbon emissions.
The communique highlighted the need to cut carbon emission by around 43% by 2030, and 60% by 2035, relative to the 2019 level. It also reaffirmed the G-7 commitment to ending fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
The president-designate for the next United Nations climate talks, the COP28, who was also attending the talks in Sapporo, issued a statement urging G-7 nations to increase financial support for developing countries’ transitions to clean energy.
“We must make a fairer deal for the Global South,” said Sultan Al Jaber of the United Arab Emirates “Not enough is getting to the people and places that need it most.”
He said developed countries must follow through on a $100 billion pledge they made at the 2009 COP15 meeting. The next talks are to be held in Dubai in late November.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who met in Beijing on Friday, issued a joint statement expressing concern that such funding “continues to fall short of the commitment of $100 billion per year.”
Bhupender Yadav, India’s environment minister, urged G-7 countries to hasten their emissions reductions to allow space for developing countries to grow their economies. That is “the best defense against the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and pollution,” he said in a tweet.
The document crafted in Sapporo included significant amounts of nuance to allow for differences between the G-7 energy strategies, climate advocates said.
“They put out bold language on the urgency of addressing the climate crisis but the real test is what are they saying to the rest of the world about their commitments to scale up ambitions,” Alden Meyer, a senior associate at E3G, a climate change think tank, said in a Twitter spaces session just after the communique was released.
But while other G-7 countries prevented Japan from expanding loopholes to allow wider use of fossil fuels, the commitments “fall short of the clarion call to action that was needed,” Meyer said.
The Sapporo talks also yielded pledges to cooperate on wise and equitable environmental energy, water, farm and marine policies. The ministers committed to ending plastic pollution, aiming to take new plastic pollution to zero by 2040.
While the G-7 energy and environment ministers were wrapping up their meetings in Sapporo, farther south in the mountain city of Karuizawa G-7 foreign ministers were grappling with other shared concerns including regional security and the war in Ukraine.
The war, which Kerry called “insane and tragic,” has complicated the switch to renewable energy by disrupting trade in oil and gas and pushing prices sharply higher, but phasing out carbon emissions can and must continue.
“I think energy security is being exaggerated in some cases,” Kerry said, pointing to Germany’s progress in embracing renewable energy and even phasing out its nuclear power plants.