Behind the Scenes, G7 Nations Wrangle Over Ambitious Climate Commitments

In theory, the world’s largest industrialized democracies have agreed to stop using fossil fuels in just over a quarter century and switch to new sources of energy, such as solar and wind, as soon as they can.

But as the leaders of the Group of 7 gathered in Hiroshima, Japan, this weekend for their annual meeting, some countries were discussing whether to loosen commitments to phase out the use of carbon-emitting fuels like gas and coal in time. to avoid the worst. Global warming effects.

The final communiqué from the summit, released on Saturday afternoon, included language sought by Japan that blesses continued investment in certain types of coal-fired power plants that the Japanese government is helping to finance. But the leaders only modestly modified language from last year’s meeting that supported some new investment in natural gas infrastructure. Germany, which pushed for backing in 2022 as it struggled to replace Russian gas imports after the invasion of Ukraine, had sought to expand the wording this year.

The behind-the-scenes battle underscored the political, economic and practical challenges many G7 nations have faced as they try to speed up a global energy transition with trillions of dollars in government incentives.

Shocked by the invasion of Ukraine, the countries of Europe are looking to quickly secure sources of natural gas to keep the lights on. At the same time, countries like Japan and even to some extent the United States seek to protect long-standing investments in the fossil fuel industry at home or abroad.

The United States and its allies have moved quickly over the past year to incentivize investments in wind and solar power, electric vehicles, technology to help make energy efficient, and other measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing the rise. of global temperature. At the same time, they have taken what officials call temporary but crucial measures to keep fossil fuels flowing to global markets, both to avoid a power crisis in Europe and to keep gasoline prices low around the world.

Those efforts include a price-cap measure for Russian oil that was hailed as a success at meetings this weekend. The cap effectively allows Russia to continue exporting oil, but at a discount; keeping its crude on the market has helped keep global gasoline prices low.

But tensions have flared in the coalition over efforts by some countries to secure their access to fossil fuels for decades to come. According to three people familiar with the discussions, the German government, concerned about securing enough energy to boost its economy, pushed in Hiroshima to relax language leaders released last year, just months after Russia’s war against Ukraine began. .

The 2022 communiqué backed public investment in gas, but only in “exceptional circumstances” and as a “temporary response” to free nations from dependence on Russian energy. Any expansion, the statement said, should not derail nations from their pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The 2023 declaration repeated that language and did not go much further.

“It is necessary to accelerate the phasing out of our dependence on Russian energy, including by saving energy and reducing gas demand, consistent with our Paris commitments,” it said, referring to the landmark Paris climate agreement, “and address the global problem.” impact of Russia’s war on energy supply, gas prices and inflation, and people’s lives, recognizing the paramount need to accelerate the clean energy transition.”

Britain and France fought off the German effort. The Biden administration was caught between defending the president’s own ambitious climate change agenda and helping other US allies increase their access to fossil fuels.

The sudden promotion of such fuels has alarmed environmental campaigners who say backing public investment in gas is inconsistent with the promise nations made in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021 to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels. .

“The G7 must state clearly how they intend to keep the 1.5 degree Celsius limit alive and stimulate a global shift towards clean energy,” said Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland. “This is a moment. The climate crisis is upon us.”

Britain and France argue that the immediate energy crisis is over and that Europe has avoided a potential power shortage this winter. Germany has already built its first liquefied natural gas terminal and expects to build more.

Japan also has an interest in further development of natural gas. During a meeting of environment ministers from the Group of 7 nations in Sapporo, Japan, last month, Japanese representatives pressured the group to allow more investment in developing gas fields in Asia, according to environmental activists.

A Japanese foreign ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity said Japan, which is dependent on energy imports, needed natural gas for its energy security and also wanted to help other countries use liquefied natural gas as a form of stay away from coal .

Kaname Ogawa, director of the power infrastructure division at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said Japan was generally committed to reducing its reliance on natural gas, but had sought new contracts to import gas because others had expired. Liquefied natural gas accounts for more than a third of Japan’s power generation, and about 10 percent of that gas comes from Russia.

Japan already lobbied hard at the Sapporo meeting to prevent environment ministers from committing the Group of 7 to a firm date to phase out coal. Unlike the other countries in the group, Japan, which gets about 30 percent of its power from coal, refused to sign on to a 2030 date to cut it to zero.

“Our electrical structure differs significantly from that of other countries,” Mr. Ogawa said. “We will introduce renewable energy and increase non-fossil fuels as much as possible, but at the same time, to maintain our electrical security, we have to continue using” coal.

The government is funding efforts to use ammonia in coal plants to make them more efficient, a technology it has marketed as “clean coal.” Saturday’s statement specifically cited ammonia, saying such efforts “should be developed and used, if this can be aligned with a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway, where they have an impact as effective emissions reduction tools to advance decarbonization in all sectors and industries.

Activists worry that Japan’s timeline for developing its ammonia technology is too long to help with climate goals.

“New technology cannot arrive in a timely manner to achieve a 2030 carbon phase-out schedule,” said Kimiko Hirata, founder of Climate Integrate, an advocacy group. “It will be developed and implemented only after 2030, so this technology is not compatible with the 1.5 degree target.”

That goal will not be achievable if countries continue to develop new sources of fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency. The atmosphere has already warmed 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels and is hurtling towards that planetary boundary.

In a “clean energy economy action plan” released on Saturday, the Group of 7 acknowledged “that there are various paths depending on each country’s energy situation, industrial and social structures, and geographical conditions.”

A senior US official said the Biden administration was insisting on “not backing down on climate” in gas investment language. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said public financing for gas infrastructure should be allowed only in “limited circumstances” and still be consistent with countries’ plans to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere before 2050.

Hikari Hida contributed reporting from Hiroshima, Japan.