At the end of a three-day summit in Berlin, climate, and energy ministers from the group of seven wealthy nations have announced that they will aim to largely end greenhouse gas emissions from their energy sectors by 2035. The seven nations’ goal is for a complete phaseout eventually. In particular they agreed to phase out coal-fired generation making it very unlikely that any of these countries will burn coal for electricity beyond 2035.
Coal is a heavily polluting fossil fuel which is responsible for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans. Though there are ways of reducing the carbon dioxide from the burning of coal it is almost impossible to reduce it to zero. This makes it the first fossil fuel that should be completely phased out.
The 2035 target is a real breakthrough. Luca Bergamaschi, director of the Rome-based campaign group ECCO said that in practice this means that countries need to phase out coal by 2030 at the latest.
Germany, the current chair of the G7 has played a big part in driving this commitment. The German coalition government vowed to bring forward the country’s own coal phaseout by eight years to 2030 and has pushed the other G7 nations to bring their plans forward too.
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Currently, Germany and Canada are aiming for 2030 while the US administration has set a target of ending fossil fuel use for electricity generation in the US by 2035. Japan is the only one of the seven nations asking for more time.
Although Britain, France and Italy have already set themselves deadlines to stop burning coal, Britain has recently decided to postpone some of the planned closures of coal power plants due to predicted energy shortages.
Other major polluters will likely feel pressurised to follow suit and build on the compromise deal which was reached at last year’s UN climate summit. At this summit nations merely committed to the phasing down rather than the phasing out of coal with no fixed target date.
There will no doubt be a return to this issue at a meeting later this year of the group of 20 leading and emerging economies, who are responsible for 80% of global emissions.
Officials from Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Canada and the US, the nations that make up the G7, have also agreed on a target to have a highly decarbonised road sector by 2030. This would mean that zero emission vehicles would dominate sales of vehicles by the end of the decade.
Governments are continuing to prioritise decarbonisation plans for their economies with a view to cutting their nation’s reliance on Russian oil and gas as a response to their invasion of Ukraine. They are focusing on finding new energy sources as well as expanding the use of the renewable energy sources they already have in order to guarantee long-term energy security in light of both the war in Ukraine and the recent price volatility associated with fossil fuels.
Ministers at the G7 meeting pledged to be more ambitious regarding renewable energies and to “rapidly scale up the necessary technologies and policies for the clean energy transition.”
Canada has made good progress and is on track for phasing out coal by 2030. If it is to achieve a net zero grid by 2035 it will, however, need to reduce gas-fired power, scale up affordable and proven clean energy technologies and take the necessary steps to enable grid flexibility.
Despite these good intentions, global coal is expected to reach an all-time high by the end of 2022, if current trends continue.
Developing countries have for years demanded a clear commitment that they will receive financial support to cope with the destruction caused by climate change and to help them make the transition to a greener economy.
In a move to end this inequality, the G-7 has now recognised for the first time the need to provide additional financial aid to developing countries so that they can cope with the loss and damage caused by global warming.
David Ryfisch of the Berlin-based environmental campaign group Germanwatch said:
“After years of roadblocks, the G7 finally recognise that they need to financially support poor countries in addressing climate-related losses and damages. That recognition is not enough: they need to put actual money on the table.”
The agreements which will be put to leaders at the G-7 summit in Elmau in June, were largely welcomed by climate activists.
It is hoped that the G7 nations will propose similar commitments in a meeting later this year of the wider group of 20 leading and emerging economies to ensure that tackling climate change is a global effort. The group of 20 are collectively responsible for 80% of global emissions.
It won’t be easy to get all G20 countries to sign up to the ambitious targets set by some of the more advanced economies as countries such as China, India and Indonesia are still heavily reliant on coal. In fact, China has revealed plans to boost its coal production capacity in the coming months.
The US and Germany have signed a separate agreement to deepen their bilateral cooperation on transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy in an effort to curb climate change.
The deal focuses on the two countries working together to develop and deploy technologies that will accelerate their clean energy transition, particularly in the area of offshore wind power, zero emissions vehicles and hydrogen.
The two countries have also pledged to work together to promote ambitious climate policies and energy security worldwide.
Germany’s energy and climate minister, Robert Habeck, said the agreement reflected the urgency of tackling global warming.
Scientists agree that if the goals that were set out in the 2015 Paris agreement are to be met, steep emissions cuts will need to happen this decade.
Time is literally running out, Habeck said, calling climate change the challenge of our political generation.