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Time for G7 Leaders to Fully Phase-Out Fossil Fuels: A Call to Action

By Kevin Li, Researcher, CarbonCare InnoLab (CCIL)

The El Niño phenomenon is intensifying this year due to climate change. Meteorologists worldwide predict higher temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, and increased intensity of tropical cyclones and heavy rainfall. Against this backdrop, several Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand, experienced an unusual heatwave in April, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in many places. However, in May, a rare wind disaster occurred in the Bay of Bengal. Cyclone Mocha directly hit the coastal areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh on May 13-14, with the worst-hit area being Rakhine State, where the Rohingya refugee crisis occurred in earlier years.

Due to communication disruptions, the severity of the disaster was not fully understood by the outside world until recently. According to reports from humanitarian aid organizations under the United Nations, local rescue workers revealed the extent of the damage caused by Cyclone Mocha a week after the disaster. It is estimated that over 140 people have died, at least three million people have been affected, and 800,000 people urgently require food aid. All rural infrastructure has been destroyed, and residents still cannot access clean drinking water, increasing the risk of disease infection.

In the past 20 years, the northern Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, which previously experienced fewer tropical cyclones, has recorded more tropical cyclones. The region is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the disasters caused by climate change, particularly typhoons, floods, and rising sea levels. For instance, the massive floods that occurred in Pakistan last year were among the consequences. However, Rakhine State, which was already affected by political and ethnic conflicts, scarce community resources, and fragile infrastructure, can expect the rare tropical storm to exacerbate social conflicts and increase the likelihood of internal strife.

Climate Action Requires Concerted Efforts from All Countries to Phase Out Fossil Fuels

Climate change is no longer just an environmental issue but a major concern that involves politics, economics, and society, with far-reaching implications for regional peace. To address the challenges posed by climate change, all countries need to take consistent actions regardless of geopolitical conflicts.

During the occurrence of tropical storms, several international conferences related to climate change were held, including the Group of Seven (G7) Leaders’ Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, the United Nations High-level Meeting on the Mid-term Review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in New York, US, and the 79th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. The question is whether political and business leaders attending these meetings can respond to international expectations, accelerate climate action, achieve climate justice, a just energy transition, and address the concerns of civil society against the backdrop of climate disasters.

Overall, the leaders of all countries attending these three meetings acknowledged the seriousness of climate disasters and the need to strengthen regional cooperation to accelerate climate action. This includes promoting clean and renewable energy technologies, regional power grid interconnection, zero-emission transportation, early warning systems for disasters, and strengthening the collection and use of climate-related statistics to control global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees, and enhance risk governance, disaster prevention strategies, and financial investment in disaster prevention at the local level.

Of the three conferences, the negotiations at the G7 Leaders’ Summit were the most influential on the global climate negotiation process and drew the most attention from all sectors. However, the G7 leaders failed to seize the critical moment of the summit and reach a consensus on the crucial issue of phasing out fossil fuels. Specifically, they did not set a concrete timetable for ending coal-fired power generation within G7 countries domestically and globally. The communique also added the words "unabated" before coal-fired power, indicating that the G7 leaders are still giving the green light to expensive and unproven "abating" technologies, perpetuating the existence of the fossil fuel industry. Furthermore, the communique did not mention the global renewable energy development goals proposed by the G7 climate, energy, and environment ministers earlier, making it difficult to confirm the effectiveness of their commitments. This is disappointing and raises questions about the G7's commitment to climate action.

G7 Still Has Responsibility to Provide Financing for Climate Action in Developing Countries

Furthermore, Japan continues to oppose the gradual phasing out of coal-fired power generation, while the other six countries of the G7 are moving towards becoming coal-free nations. Japan's position highlights its isolated position and its inability to lead the power sector in developing more ambitious decarbonization plans. In addition, Germany's insistence on investing in natural gas has weakened the G7's influence, which is urgently needed to lead global climate action. The G7 missed the opportunity presented by the energy crisis caused by the Ukraine war to accelerate the reduction of their dependence on natural gas, which undermines their commitment to addressing climate change.

Regarding climate adaptation, the G7's financing for climate action is still far from sufficient, including support for the annual $100 billion climate financing target for developing countries, as well as the financing mechanism for Loss and Damage caused by global climate disasters adopted at COP27, for which specific financing targets and timetables have not been set.

Fortunately, it is heartening to see that the G7 leaders emphasized for the first time in their communique the need to terminate the construction of new unabated coal-fired power plants, which is an important step forward. The G7 not only recognizes its responsibility and obligation to stop building coal-fired power plants, but also needs to encourage and cooperate with other countries to stop new construction of coal-fired power plants globally. The G7 leaders have launched the Global Partnership on Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) and the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), which are important mechanisms for achieving clean energy infrastructure and expanding investment. They have also called on multilateral development banks to coordinate action to promote global economic transformation, playing an important role in addressing climate change. The G7 leaders have pledged to support capital market reforms, the World Bank's reform roadmap, and the work of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) to develop credible decarbonization targets for domestic and multinational corporate climate transition plans.

While the G7 missed the opportunity to show their ambition for climate action at the Leaders’ Summit, we still expect them to take action to strengthen global cooperation at the many meetings to come later this year. In addition to agreeing on targets and timetables for phasing out fossil fuels, accelerating and scaling up climate financing for developing countries, and investing in the Loss and Damage financing mechanism, the G7 should take action to achieve interoperability of global sustainability standards through cooperation with the ISSB. The G7 leaders have also pledged to support international trade reform and large-scale public-private investment to help developing countries establish sustainable clean energy supply chains. We expect the G7 to provide more specific details on how they plan to achieve their goals.

Asia-Pacific Countries Must Step Up Climate Action Despite G7's Failure to Deliver on Climate Promises

Against the backdrop of the G7 Leaders' Summit, the outcomes of two other international conferences are equally significant for the climate negotiation process. They also highlight the importance of leaders demonstrating ambition and setting targets and timelines. The high-level meeting on mid-term review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction can be seen as a milestone. The meeting assessed the progress and strategies for disaster prevention for global multiple crises and regional disasters, including climate disasters, and evaluated the prospects for the next critical years. The mid-term review report released before the meeting acknowledged that while there has been some progress in reducing global disaster deaths, many countries are developing national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction, and international cooperation is expanding, and multi-hazard early warning systems are taking shape. However, the impact of climate change, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters, has offset progress made in disaster prevention work in recent years. The further expansion of climate disasters and extreme weather events is worrying. Therefore, leaders of all countries must continue to establish disaster risk management and the need for inter-departmental and inter-governmental cooperation and provide sufficient financing for relevant disaster prevention strategies. The next few years are crucial for achieving mid-term goals and sustainable development goals, tackling climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

As for the Asia-Pacific region where we are located, it not only faces the severe consequences of climate change but is also a major source of emissions. According to the latest report released by ESCAP before the meeting, most countries in the Asia-Pacific region still lack sufficient capacity to respond to extreme weather and climate disasters, and the fiscal resources and necessary data required for adaptation and mitigation measures are lacking, estimated at trillions of dollars annually. At the same time, the temperature in the Asia-Pacific region has increased faster than the global average in the past 60 years, posing a threat to food production and accelerating the impact on the economy and society. On the other hand, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for more than half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions are also increasing with population growth and continued reliance on fossil fuels for the economy. ESCAP emphasizes that the sum of countries' climate actions still falls short of the ambition needed to achieve the Paris Agreement.

Therefore, we expect that Asia-Pacific countries must undergo structural transformations in three key areas: energy, transportation and logistics, and international trade and investment. In addition, Asia-Pacific countries should strengthen regional cooperation and provide financing for the transformation of other countries in the region in these three key areas, and enhance regional cooperation in response to multiple disasters, including climate change, to better manage risks and mitigate and adapt to the increasingly severe climate crisis. This will help achieve a net-zero carbon future.

Related Article:

Li, K., “G7's Climate Commitments Continue to Fall Short, lacking a Timetable to Phase Out Fossil Fuels,” CarbonCare InnoLab, 19 April 2023.

Reference Documents:

Climate Action Network (CAN), “Civil society groups slam G7 for poor climate leadership and backsliding on promises,” CAN, 20 May 2023.
G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué, 20 May 2023.
IISD Earth Negotiation Bulletin, “Summary report, 17–19 May 2023, High-Level Meeting on the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework,” IISD, 20 May 2023.
Third Generation Environmentalism Ltd (E3G), “E3G reacts to the G7 Hiroshima Summit Communique,” E3G, 20 May 2023.
Third Generation Environmentalism Ltd (E3G), “How the G7 Leaders’ Summit can address climate, energy security, and economic instability,” E3G, 18 May 2023.
UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP), “Asia-Pacific countries adopt 10 UN resolutions reaffirming commitments to protect the planet and its people,” ESCAP, 19 May 2023.
UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP), “The race to net zero: accelerating climate action in Asia and the Pacific,” ESCAP, 7 May 2023.

Image: Infrared satellite image of Cyclone Mocha at 6:30 UTC May 14, 2023, about an hour before the storm made landfall in Myanmar. (Image credit: cyclonicwx.com)