For the first time, the G7 has set an actual deadline for ending massive fossil fuel subsidies: the year 2025.
But while it's great to "finally have an endgame for these perverse incentives," as Overseas Development Institute research fellow Shelagh Whitley wrote on Friday, "we could easily get there twice as fast."
What's more, Whitley argued, "In spite of these powerful proclamations, G7 governments continue to prop up a doomed fossil fuel industry."
The G7 group of countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.S., and UK—made the announcement on Friday in Tokyo, at the conclusion of a two-day summit.
"Given the fact that energy production and use account for around two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, we recognise the crucial role that the energy sector has to play in combatting climate change," reads the declaration (pdf) issued by G7 country leaders.
In turn, the declaration commits to the "elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies" by 2025, and urges other countries to join in such a pledge. As The Independent points out, "Previously the G7 and G20 have talked about the need to end fossil fuel subsidies but without setting any kind of date for that to happen."
In addition, the G7 leaders committed to "taking the necessary steps to secure ratification, acceptance or approval" of the Paris Agreement hammered out at the COP21 talks in December.
Still, Friday's announcement fell short for environmental campaigners, who said government subsidies and public financing for dirty energy projects must end even sooner.
"The world can't wait until 2025 for major economies to stop funding fossils," Alex Doukas, senior campaigner at Oil Change International, said on Friday, arguing "these subsidies should end by 2020 if we want a decent chance at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change."
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Furthermore, the G7 governments must "put their money where their mouth is," as Whitley and others noted, pointing to continued financing of fossil fuel production—particularly in the coal sector.
For example, the announcement "begs the question why the UK government is still allowing vast new opencast coal mines to be proposed—such as at beautiful Druridge Bay in Northumberland," said Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole. "We don't need more warm words, we need our government to lock fossil fuels in the ground."
As Whitley wrote, a report on G7 public finance for coal reveals:
- G7 countries gave over US$42 billion to coal mining and power projects between 2007 and 2015
- Summit host Japan continues to be the worst culprit among G7 countries, giving $22 billion to coal projects between 2007 to 2015, with second place Germany handing out $9 billion over the same period
- In 2015 alone – the year of headline grabbing promises on climate action culminating in the Paris Agreement – G7 countries stumped up $2.5 billion in coal finance
- Japan not only gave $1.4 billion to coal projects in 2015, it is also considering nearly $10 billion for future coal projects
"The G7 countries, all of whom have signed the new global climate deal agreed last year, have lost an opportunity to show global leadership on climate issues by not sending a clear signal about decarbonization," said Samantha Smith, leader of WWF's Global Climate and Energy Initiative. "Just repeating the commitments they made in Paris is not enough. We call on the G7 members to immediately end finance for coal plants and phase out support for other fossil fuels."
Meanwhile, "we have to be careful that the definition of 'subsidy' covers all forms of financial support, to avoid wriggling," Dale Vince, founder of green energy company Ecotricity, told The Independent.
The word "inefficient," too, should be scrutinized, said Michael Jacobs, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics' Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and Environment—because countries that want to keep propping up fossil fuels could simply argue that their subsidies were efficient.
Bottom line, the G7 announcement "fell short of what's needed on climate change," said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, on Friday. "We're glad to see the G7's support for ratification of the Paris Agreement this year, but we expected a more ambitious response to the climate crisis, with specific details of how and when G7 leaders themselves intend to act.
"The next big political moment is the G20 in September," Morgan added. "It's up to China to tackle the toughest political questions head on, and lead the G20 to make public and private investment compatible with the Paris vision of limiting temperature rise to 1.5C."