The G7 summit this week will bring together leaders from the world's most advanced economies, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The G7 foreign and environmental ministers met in the run-up to the conference in Hiroshima, Japan, to discuss a range of global issues, including strengthening multilateralism and international cooperation, disarmament and non-proliferation, economic security, and climate change.
The G7's commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 will be a recurring topic throughout the gathering; yet, the path to such an ambitious objective remains fractured among G7 countries. The current global energy crisis has been compounded by the Ukraine war, which has had a significant impact on the global energy environment.
The conflict's impact on energy costs has highlighted the need for international governments to prioritise national energy security measures that rely on the unbroken, ongoing supply of energy supplies at a reasonable price. At its foundation, energy security serves as a catalyst for generating economic growth, sociopolitical stability, and overall prosperity.
G7 environment ministers gathered in mid-April to discuss the global climate problem and the critical importance of ensuring that the ongoing energy transition gains traction. Dr Sultan Al Jaber, President-Designate of the Cop28 climate conference, which will be held in the UAE later this year, made this statement while attending the G7 ministerial climate discussions.
Dr. Al Jaber argued that oil-producing nations must take an accelerated, but pragmatic, approach to a clean energy transition in which energy produced today, including that derived from fossil fuels, remains as "low-carbon-intensive as possible," adding, "Let us remember that emissions, not energy, are the enemy." To ensure long-term economic and social development, we need maximum energy and minimal emissions."
Dr. Al Jaber reiterated last week at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Germany that the future of climate diplomacy should target oil and gas emissions alongside increasing carbon-capture technologies while expanding investment in zero-carbon alternatives to provide a more seamless, clean energy transition.
However, for the world's most industrialised economies, deciding on how to achieve such lofty goals remains a difficulty. Attempts by the United Kingdom and Canada to broker a 2030 timetable for an expedited phase-out of unabated domestic coal-fired power drew stiff opposition during the G7 ministerial talks in April. Japan, along with the United States and the European Union (which participated in the meetings as an invited guest), objected to the hastened timeframe. Japan, which currently imports about 94% of its energy, is largely reliant on coal-fired power plants for domestic energy consumption, with coal accounting for one-third of its overall energy mix.
Following the bad public reaction to the Fukushima nuclear plant tragedy in 2011, Tokyo sought to phase out nuclear power. However, in response to current energy shortages, it has opted to restart national nuclear power generation, with the goal of expanding it from around 7% of Japan's overall energy mix now to a fifth by the end of the decade.
Throughout the ministerial meetings, Japan fought to persuade its G7 peers to include new wording in joint communiques advocating for more investments in natural gas exploration and production, which Japan sees as essential for a transition to a clean energy future. Some other G7 members rejected its ideas, claiming that such spending would not help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The purpose of G7 summits is to encourage collective action in order to coordinate policy solutions to today's most pressing global concerns. Internal disagreements, self-serving political objectives, and, some would claim, limited influence (especially without China as a member) are among their disadvantages.
These flaws, as well as the resulting conflicts, have the potential to weaken the group's efforts when it comes to future climate issues. What will be interesting to see is if the G7 nations' opinions will evolve or become more cemented during the G20 summit in September in India.
The G20, which comprises 85% of global GDP and two-thirds of the global population, also includes the world's biggest carbon emitters, such as China, the United States, and India. G20 countries spent about $55 billion per year financing fossil fuel projects from 2019 to 2021. If the important group representing the world's top economies (and emissions) could agree on how to phase out unabated fossil fuels, such a decision would be critical in boosting the likelihood of lowering global temperatures to avoid exceeding the 1.5oC barrier.
It would also assist to set the way for significant progress at Cop28 in November. Cop28 will be a vital time for world leaders to assess climate-action progress since signing the Paris Agreement in 2015, and it will undoubtedly serve as a wake-up call to remind us that inactivity today will result in environmental destruction for future generations.