The Group of Seven (G7) has announced a commitment to phase out fossil fuels faster, which has been welcomed as a potential step towards a global deal for all countries to do the same. However, the announcement is facing criticism for not matching the pledge with firm action. The G7 countries’ climate ministers agreed to speed up their phase-out of fossil fuel consumption causing climate change, although they did not set a firm date for doing this. In a joint statement at their meeting in Sapporo, Japan, the ministers agreed “to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest”.
“This is an important step forward after the failure of COP27 on this point at the end of last year,” said French Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher. At last year’s United Nations COP27 climate summit, countries failed to agree on a deal on phasing down fossil fuel energy. A proposal by India to do this won support from more than 80 governments but was opposed by oil and gas-rich nations. Some, including the 27-country European Union, are hoping to revive the idea before this year’s UN climate summit, which begins on November 30 in Dubai.
While not legally binding, the idea behind a global deal to gradually quit fossil fuels would be to create a powerful “north star” to guide future climate negotiations, government policies, and investments towards clean energy and industries. “If you could get a consensus decision that this is the direction of travel, that would be huge,” said Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate think tank E3G. But Meyer warned of significant hurdles to clinching the pledge. It took more than two decades of UN climate negotiations before countries even mentioned fossil fuels in a summit statement – which was in 2021 – amid pushback from fossil fuel-producing countries and industries.
Insufficient financial support from wealthy countries to help developing ones switch to clean energy could also weaken the G7’s leverage in bringing other nations on board with a commitment to eventually quit oil and gas. Wealthy countries have still not met a promise to deliver $100bn per year, starting in 2020, to help poorer nations cut emissions and cope with climate change. That amount falls far short of their actual needs but has become symbolic of wealthy countries’ failure to deliver promised climate funds.
The need to back the fossil fuel phase-out pledge with cash was echoed by Gillian Nelson, policy director at the non-profit We Mean Business Coalition, which works with companies and investors on climate action. Nelson said G7 governments spent roughly $33bn a year on fossil fuel subsidies that could be redirected to help unleash private cash for clean energy. “The most efficient way to ensure a smooth and just transition to a clean energy system is to redirect these subsidies now,” she said.
Meetings that could be used to build momentum for a fossil fuel commitment before COP28 include a June summit hosted by France aimed at scaling up finance for developing countries and a September G20 leaders’ meeting hosted by India – author of the proposal at last year’s climate summit to phase down fossil fuels. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, president of last year’s UN climate summit, has said consultations will continue before COP28 on whether to call for a phase-out of fossil fuels.
Pushing through a deal on phasing out fossil fuels would depend on the UAE rallying political support – including among other oil and gas producing nations such as Saudi Arabia, which opposed the proposal at last year’s summit, said Luca Bergamaschi, co-founder of Italian climate think tank ECCO. But Bergamaschi said widespread support was unlikely to be won without the G7 – since the most developed economies must offer developing countries a map to achieving the goal by offering financial support and scaling up clean energy. “Where the G7 should show much more leadership is how, in practice, you are going to do that,” he said.