Despite recent challenges in international cooperation, the G7’s climate compliance has improved – but much more than incremental action is needed to keep global temperatures below catastrophic levels
The six years leading up to 2021 have been the hottest since the 21st century began, and 2021 will likely be just as hot. Many people and governments are implementing policies to reduce their emissions, with some success. However, to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, much more than incremental action is needed. Can the United Kingdom lead the G7 in raising members’ ambition for climate action at its Cornwall Summit?
G7 summits up to 1979 dedicated none of their conclusions in their communiqués to climate change. This performance rose incrementally, averaging 1% per summit up to 1989 and 2% from 1990 to 2004. From 2005 to 2014, it jumped to 12%, and 13% from 2015 to 2019.
The 2020 summit was cancelled, and the Virtual Summit on 16 March responded to the COVID-19 crisis without addressing climate change. Under the UK’s 2021 presidency, climate change took 12% of the communiqué issued at the Virtual Summit on 19 February.
The trend for G7 climate change commitments partly mirrors that with the conclusions. Since 1985, the G7 has made 319 politically binding climate commitments, rising over time.
Summits from 1979 to 1989 made a total of five commitments, averaging less than one per summit. From 1990 to 2004, the 42 commitments averaged three per summit. From 2005 to 2014 there were 221 commitments for 22 per summit on average.
Summits between 2015 and 2019, made 51 commitments, averaging seven per summit. None were made in 2020. The 2021 Virtual Summit made three climate commitments.
Members’ compliance with their climate commitments rose too, even between 2014 and 2019, when fewer commitments were made and tensions rose among the leaders. The G7 Research Group has assessed 92 climate commitments made from 1985 to 2019. Their 73% average compliance is slightly below the G7’s 76% average for 594 assessments across all subjects and years.Climate compliance up to 1989 averaged only 54%. It rose to 73% by 2004, to 75% by 2014 and to 80% by 2020.
CAUSES AND CORRECTIONS
One possible cause of compliance is internal institutional support. Holding pre-summit environment ministerial meetings and creating an official level body for climate and the environment seem to raise compliance with leaders’ climate commitments. Over the 20 years with one meeting of environment ministers, climate compliance averaged 77%, compared to the 69% average for the 16 years with no meeting. Years when an official level body was created had a 33% increased chance of higher compliance.
A second cause is surrounding summit support. The G20’s compliance with its own climate commitments appears to affect G7 compliance, even when the content of the G7 and G20 commitments do not coincide. G7 climate commitments are 9% more likely to have higher compliance for each 10% increase in the G20’s average compliance in that same year. High-level UN climate summits also seem to help raise G7 climate compliance.
A third cause is non-state actor engagement, in particular Indigenous peoples and cities. Summits with a reference to Indigenous peoples had 85% compliance with their climate commitments compared to 72% for those with no reference. Summits that referenced cities had 76% compared to the two summits with no references at 72%.
A fourth cause is the specific language in the commitment, such as a reference to a past G7 summit (78% compliance), the Paris Agreement or United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (77%), or to the private sector (77%). Commitments with binding language averaged 75%, a one-year timetable averaged 74% and a quantifiable target averaged 73%. Catalysts that may constrain compliance include a multiyear timetable (72%), low binding language (72%) and references to civil society or a regional facility (50%) or least developed countries (45%).
A fifth cause is synergy. The highest compliance came on climate commitments referring to the economy, markets and growth at 85% and natural disasters at 80%. Those on transportation averaged 78%, energy 75% and technology 74%. Lower compliance came on education at 72%, environmental pollution at 68%, health at 59%, food security at 56%, sustainable development at 56% and forests at 55%.
A sixth cause is money mobilised. The G7’s compliance with its climate finance commitments was only 68%.
The G7’s climate compliance has improved, despite recent challenges in international cooperation. Accountability measures matter and should be used, but will not work alone. A global paradigm shift and radical transformative change are needed to restore the balance of power between humanity and the rest of nature.