bneGREEN: G7 sets targets for wind, solar but cannot agree to phase out coal

bneGREEN: G7 sets targets for wind, solar but cannot agree to phase out coal
Fossil fuels will not be phased out under a new G7 communique / USDA
By by Roberta Harrington in Los Angeles April 19, 2023

The Group of Seven (G7) group of rich nations has established high targets for offshore wind and solar energy. The move was welcomed by renewable energy advocates and the member countries and the European Union.

But the ministers who met in Sapporo in Japan declined to set a 2030 deadline for ending coal-fired energy. Japan had resisted a collective agreement on coal, according to reports from Sapporo, while Canada and a few other members – including the UK – had pushed for the 2030 phase-out date.

The G7 members also continued to call for the use of natural gas to bolster energy security and as a bridge to a “predominantly” carbon-free future by 2035. A “predominantly” carbon-free future had been the woolly language that was agreed upon in G7 communique issued after the same meeting in 2022.

The G7 comprises the world’s richest nations, although not all major polluters such as China, India and Russia. The G7’s inter-governmental members are: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. The EU has G7 voting rights.

The recent G7 meeting came as renewable energy and energy security have taken centre-stage in the developed world, in part following the energy crisis of 2022 when Russia started a war in Ukraine and natural gas prices escalated.

In a new communique, the G7 pledged to set a goal of 150 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 and solar capacity of more than 1 TW.

According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), the global total of offshore wind is currently just over 64 GW, so the G7’s 150-GW goal is 2.3 times current installations. Most installed wind nowadays is onshore.

GWEC, a trade group, expects offshore wind installations to rise quickly after 2025, with an initial a rate of some 25 GW of new projects a year. That means that the G7 new goal is not aggressive – and the world is on track to reach the G7’s offshore wind goal anyway.

The world’s solar capacity was already 940 GW in 2021, according to Statista. So similarly, the G7 goal for solar is not going to change the trajectory of growth already in progress.

"In the midst of an unprecedented energy crisis, it's important to come up with measures to tackle climate change and promote energy security at the same time," said Japan’s industry minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, during a news conference on April 16.

His statement came after the collective targets were set. This followed weeks of what were reportedly sometimes contentious meetings on climate, energy and environmental policy. The G7 has been accused of backtracking on climate pledges because of the energy crisis following the invasion of Ukraine.

"While acknowledging that there are diverse pathways to achieve [a] carbon neutral [goal], we agreed on the importance of aiming for a common goal toward 2050," Nishimura added.

"Initially people thought that climate action and action on energy security potentially were in conflict. But discussions which we had and which are reflected in the communique are that they actually work together," conceded Jonathan Wilkinson, the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources.

On the eve of the annal meet, US Energy Secretary Janet Granholm had issued a note of caution in an interview with Associated Press. She said that G7 nations can lead by example, although much faster action would be needed to stem global warming.

Granholm also lamented the continuing rise in global emissions, and said that the world’s move towards renewable, clean energy sources, including hydrogen, does “give hope to others to be able to do it as the technology lowers the cost."

Critics of climate policy have been deeply critical of the G7’s continued support of fuels such as coal, by far the most polluting fossil fuel.

The group said they would accelerate "the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels" in order to reach net zero at the latest by 2050. Unabated means that CO2 emissions are not captured.

Japan had reportedly resisted the statement on coal, but Germany, France and the UK succeeded in getting it included, said the Financial Times.

Investment in natural gas "can be appropriate to help address potential market shortfalls provoked by the crisis,” added the G7 members. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is also a “necessary response to the current crisis”, they said.

The statements especially regarding coal are too little and too late, said critics.

“By failing to commit to fully decarbonising the power sector, to slashing road sector emissions and totally eliminate international fossil fuel finance, the ministers really missed an opportunity to provide leadership in addressing the climate emergency,” Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate consultancy E3G, told the Financial Times.

"We are trying to find ways [for] some who are more coal-dependent than others to find technical pathways how to do that," conceded Canada’s Wilkinson in an interview with Reuters.