Climate change: an enduring issue
G7 Summit

Climate change: an enduring issue

The future prosperity of G7 members, and that of the world, must be based on new practices and technologies that help all countries transition to a cleaner, greener, sustainable future – led by the G7 

The forthcoming meeting of G7 leaders at Elmau comes at one of the most difficult times for the world in living memory. The threat to global health from the COVID-19 pandemic has started to decline, but it is not yet over. Spiralling inflation is hampering the incipient economic growth recorded during the previous year. The recent invasion of Ukraine – a blatant violation of Russia’s commitments under the United Nations Charter – has unleashed the cruelties of war on innocent people and, at the same time, destabilised global markets for food, energy and vital agricultural inputs such as fertilisers. This crisis in Ukraine is adding to inflationary pressures and increasing the risk of famine in some countries. In addition, a potential escalation of the conflict, with unpredictable consequences, is a major cause for concern. 

Those developments are, understandably, at the centre of the international agenda. They are deeply disturbing and they demand immediate action. They are even more vexing because they divert attention from climate change, which remains the most dangerous, long-term emergency the world currently faces. Responding to the current challenges, important though they certainly are, without due regard to the enduring issue of climate change would be a tragic error. 

The current outlook

Over the past few months, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has submitted different sections of its latest assessment on the outlook for the global climate. The scientific basis, which has always been sound, is more robust than ever. The reports are conclusive: human-induced climate change is causing widespread adverse impacts on nature and people around the world, with increasing losses and damages. Unchecked, global warming will aggravate climate hazards, posing growing risks to ecosystems and people. If the 1.5°C limit is exceeded, we can be certain that those risks will be severe, including the possibility of irreversible impacts. More to the point, we are not on track to limit warming to 1.5°C. In the decade before the pandemic (2010–19), average annual greenhouse gas emissions reached their highest level in human history. Preliminary data on post-pandemic emissions appear to signal a quick return to previous tendencies. 

We now fully understand the threat that climate change poses to our societies if we do not confront it promptly and decisively. We also know the actions that are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help countries prepare for a less certain future. We have, furthermore, the essential tools to foster a global transition through environmentally sound policies, sustainable finance and innovative technology. What we lack are resolute leadership and transformative action. 

Reaching consensus

Last year, in Glasgow, the international community achieved significant progress on key issues that had remained outstanding for several years. The elusive agreement on the basic rules governing carbon markets and transparency was finally reached. We also saw many new commitments in key areas – finance, forestry, the end to coal, and accelerated climate action from cities, regions and economic sectors. Those rules and commitments, however, will be meaningless unless accompanied by sweeping and urgent implementation. While deliberations must continue on a number of pending and emerging issues, this has to be a time for action. 

The G7 summit brings together the leaders of countries that have a significant responsibility for the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Their current prosperity is largely the result of the extensive use of previous technologies, based on fossil fuels. Adopted throughout the world, those technologies ultimately have led to our current climate crisis. The future prosperity of G7 members – along with that of the world – must be based on new practices and technologies, on new ways of addressing human needs that minimise greenhouse gas emissions and helping all countries transition to a cleaner, greener, sustainable future. 

The change that the world needs to see will not be possible without bold, decisive leadership. Few gatherings in the world command such attention as the G7. The decisions of this informal but influential body not only have a direct effect through their policies at home, but also motivate and inspire governments around the world. As the IPCC has conclusively shown, the window of opportunity to limit a temperature rise below 1.5°C is rapidly closing. The world legitimately looks to the G7 for leadership.