Why the G7 have made but a stuttering start on climate change

Climate justice calls for the richest countries most responsible for causing the problem of climate change to phase out fossil fuels first and fastest, but will this happen? With only a matter of months until the Paris climate change summit, Kiri Hanks reflects on the outcomes of the G7 summit in Germany earlier in June, and explains why the G7 must demonstrate more leadership on climate action to achieve real change.

The G7 summit in Elmau came just six months before the Paris climate summit, when world leaders are set to sign a global agreement on climate change. This was the G7’s moment to blow some wind into the sails of the global climate negotiations.

All eyes were on whether the G7 would deliver on two fronts. On the finance front, would they reassure developing countries that public finance will continue to increase towards meeting the $100bn level that was promised to developing countries by 2020? So far, the estimates are that developed countries are collectively only providing about $20bn in public finance – meaning we are only reaching about a fifth of the way. Public finance is important: try to persuade a company to build a sea wall to protect a
low-lying Bangladeshi town from storm surges made worse by rising sea-levels. Or convince them of the business case of providing social security nets to small-scale farmers in the poorest parts of Africa to help them keep hunger at bay when their crops fail because the rain, unpredictably, doesn’t fall.

…the G7 only managed to pledge to maintain already-existing levels of public finance. Disappointingly, the G7 only managed to pledge to maintain already-existing levels of public finance. So no progress here. Developing countries are still left wondering whether the $100bn promise will really be met; or whether the gap will be closed on paper only – the missing funds conjured up through creative accounting.

On the second front, the G7 were expected to signal what kind of a long-term goal for reducing emissions they would seek as part of the global climate agreement. And set out what they themselves would do to achieve that. Governments have already agreed the end goal to limit global warming to 2 degrees, and are now negotiating a second target to give this some bite by reinforcing how to get there. Whilst the 2 degrees target does not send shivers down the spine of the fossil fuel industry, a decarbonisation goal – in other words a goal to phase out
fossil fuel emissions – does. But this only works if the deadline is close enough that governments and investors cannot ignore it!

By endorsing a global goal to decarbonise ‘during the course of the century’, the G7 is effectively pressing the snooze button on climate action. This is a dangerous move as there is no space for  polluters to make detours if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change and secure a future where everyone can grow enough food to eat.

…the G7 is effectively pressing the snooze button on climate actionClimate justice calls for the richest countries most responsible for causing the problem to phase out fossil fuels first and fastest. Yet the G7 agreed a watered-down aim to ‘transform’ their own energy systems by 2050, stopping shy of committing to full decarbonisation.

With this vague collective target on the one hand, and the G7’s insufficient national climate action pledges for the Paris summit on the other (which are three to four times short of the ambition needed to be in line with a 2 degrees world) this was hardly the demonstration of leadership we were hoping to see. Verdict: the G7 are comfortable with setting targets for the world, yet they are not pulling their weight in delivering their fair share
– by implication, shifting the burden onto emerging and developing countries.

Two things could turn this around before the Paris summit. The G7 can show they are serious about their climate words by immediately setting about phasing out coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. And Angela Merkel’s move to double Germany’s public climate finance could shame other leaders into increasing their funding too, giving developing countries the means to play their part in the global
decarbonisation target
, whilst crucially also protecting the poorest from climate change pushing them further into hunger and poverty.

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Author: Kiri Hanks
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.