g7 climate justice
The Kong Ong Depot, the largest coal storage depots in the Jaintia Hills. The coal comes from privately owned mines in the surrounding region. Photo: Suzanne Lee / Panos Pictures / Climate Visuals

Opinion: The G7 ends without a planned coal phase-out or any sense of climate justice

In the lead up to the weekend’s G7 meeting, many climate watchers were excited that for the first time, “climate justice is on the agenda”. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to make it much further than that.

The G7 summit came to a close on June 13th and, after high expectations from the international community, the summit ended without a planned coal phase-out, a clear sense of climate justice or an Intellectual Property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines. 

In the final statement from the global leaders, climate change is mentioned 12 times. Climate justice, not once.

Some of the leaders pledged to increase financial contribution for developing countries, but nothing near the amount of money needed for them to face the serious impacts of the climate crisis; a global threat mainly caused by rich nations.

With the adoption of the Paris Agreement, rich countries pledged to give $100 billion each year to address climate change. Instead, they have provided around $22 billion per year in grants, according to an analysis by the global NGO Oxfam.

Read more: Climate Justice, for the First Time Ever, Is on the G7 Agenda

New pledges

What is mentioned is that all G7 countries did agree to improve on their 2030 targets, national climate plans, their climate finance contributions, and long term climate plans before the end of the year.  

Canada, for example, doubled its climate finance contribution from $2.65 billion to $5.3 billion Canadian Dollars over the next 5 years. Germany, on its part, promised to increase its pledge by an additional €2 billion to €6 billion euros by 2025 at the latest.

“The summit has not provided the significant climate finance needed, or the prioritisation of adaptation finance urgently needed by communities and countries on the frontline of the climate crisis,” said Catherine Pettengell, Climate Action Network UK (CAN-UK) Interim Director and C7 climate and environment lead, in a statement.

They also spoke specifically about ending “new direct government support” to coal power generation, and the need for a just transition for coal workers. 

In the lead up to the UN nature negotiations later this year, they also promised to protect “30 percent of our land and oceans by 2030”, which is congruent with the target backed by more than 50 countries to mitigate the biodiversity crisis.

Finally, they collectively promised to donate 1 billion COVID vaccines around the world, which is about 10 billion less than the World Health Organization (WHO) asked for

Many around the world would have simply preferred they granted an Intellectual Property waiver so the vaccines could be made anywhere, as India and South Africa proposed in October of 2020.

But for this issue, just like with the climate crisis, the pledges were just not enough.

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An end to coal

Leading into the conference, there was some small hope that the G7 would set a deadline end point for coal use.

This was something that would have needed almost impossible diplomacy or an unending deadline to get Germany, South Africa, India and Australia aligned, all highly dependent on coal. 

In fact, in the lead up to the Summit, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reassured coal mining executives that “we’re going to do it our way in Australia…I sort of call this the Frank Sinatra approach”. 

In response, it’s not surprising that Greenpeace’s Executive Director, Jennifer Morgan stated that “the solutions to the climate emergency are clear and available, but the G7’s refusal to do what’s needed is leaving the world’s vulnerable behind.” 

She was unsurprisingly frustrated at the lack of compassion shown in regards to the COVID vaccines waiver, and called on G7 members to “support clear plans to quickly phase out fossil fuels and commitments to immediately stop all new fossil fuel development with a just transition.” 

Slightly less diplomatic, Greta Thunberg mocked G7 leaders on Twitter for prioritising a “steak-and-lobster-BBQ-celebration while jet planes perform aerobatics”. 

Read more: As oil market crashes, Russia and Nigeria are bound to rethink energy partnership

A global gamechanger?

In the end, the G7 was not what many climate campaigners wished it might become. 

However, with Joe Biden unable to make progress on his big green infrastructure package in the US Congress, Justin Trudeau still playing a climate balancing act back in Canada and Angela Merkel about to pass the baton on in Germany, the political window may have always been a little less open than hoped. 

Adding to this challenge, South Africa and India are still well and truly in the midst of their own COVID crises. Without a stronger stance on vaccine deployment from the EU, they were never going to agree to a climate-trade tariff. 

In the end though, summits such as the G7 are rarely the global game-changers many hope they might become. More often than not, they act as a platform for bilateral trade and military discussions and sure up domestic political challenges. 

Australia, for example, found the time to sign “green” technology-focussed trade agreements with Germany and Japan over the weekend, and is now in London to work on a free trade agreement with the UK. 

Japan’s leader, Yoshihide Suga, needed the G7 to support the upcoming Olympic Games to help him navigate his own political minefield back home. 

If we compare this summit in Cornwall to the last couple of G7 meetings, this was an incredible show of multilateral alignment. However, if you remember the year we’ve all had, this summit was clearly unimpressive. 

As Laurence Tubiana, an architect of the Paris Agreement ironically stated, “In the face of a perfect storm of planetary crisis – the world’s richest democracies have responded with a plan, to make a plan.”

With the G20, the UN Nature and Climate negotiations still to come later this year, and the UN Climate intersessional negotiations happening this week, the G7 was not the last climate stop on the diplomatic journey this year. 

However, it does seem that even with Trump out of the way, international political summits may still struggle this year to break out of their indulgent climate cocoons.