G7 performance on climate change
References to international climate law and a one-year timetable – and holding environment ministers’ meetings – can help boost performance on climate commitments
What do climate scientists want us to know in 2022? That affordable solutions abound.
Although countries are on track to overshoot the allowable 1.5°C post-industrial temperature rise, the tools are available to put a wrench in the fossil-fuelled economy.
The G7 plays a major role. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, from January 2020 to March 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, G7 members spent $42 billion more on fossil fuels than clean energy. This – and all – money must be redirected to a clean, circular economy and a just transition.
The G7’s rapid response to the pandemic and its united response to Russia’s war against Ukraine shows it can act quickly and ambitiously against a common threat. At Elmau, it needs to act just as fast and show united leadership to counter the climate crisis.
The G7 has paid increasing attention to climate change and its impacts in the portion of its communiqués on the subject. But, in its 48-year history, including the additional summits held in 2021 and 2022, the G7 dedicated just 6% of them to climate change, while development had 17% and economic growth 12%.
During the past two years, despite the diversionary shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war against Ukraine, the G7 paid more attention to climate change than ever. At the G7’s February 2021 virtual meeting, under the UK presidency, 35% of the communiqué went to climate change, the most to date. At the 2021 Cornwall Summit, climate got 19%, the same as in 2015 with the pull of the UN’s Paris Agreement. At the February 2022 summit under the German presidency, a new high of 38% went to climate change.
Between 1985, with their first climate commitment, and February 2022, G7 leaders made 381 climate commitments, with a slight rise over time. They made only five commitments in the second half of the 1980s; 42 commitments, averaging three per summit from 1990 to 2004; 221 commitments, averaging 22 per summit, from 2005 to 2014; and 51 commitments, averaging seven per summit, from 2015 to 2019. As a portion, 2008 had the most with 19%, while 2003, 2004, 2019, 2020 and the August 2021 virtual summit all had less than 1% to none.
From 2020 until February 2022, the G7 already made 65 commitments, averaging 13 per summit. The 2020 US Virtual Summit made none. The February 2021 virtual summit made three (for 11%), the in-person Cornwall Summit that June made 54 (for 13%) and the August virtual summit none. The February 2022 Virtual Summit, convened by the German presidency the day Russia’s war against Ukraine began, produced eight (for 15%).
Average compliance with the 96 assessed climate commitments is 73%, slightly below the G7’s 76% average for all 641 assessed commitments. G7 members’ climate compliance by 1989 averaged only 54%, but rose to 73% by 2004, to 75% by 2014 and to 78% by 2020. By 1 February 2022, compliance with the one assessed commitment from the 2021 Cornwall Summit was 88%.
By member, the European Union led with 91% compliance, followed by the United Kingdom with 83%, Germany with 81%, Canada with 77%, Japan with 73%, France and the United States with 71% each, and Italy with 54%. Russia from 1998 to 2014 had 58%.
Causes and corrections
Several causes of this compliance are low-cost measures under G7 leaders’ direct control, which they have used before to good effect.
Compliance above the 73% average comes from climate commitments that refer to a past summit at 78% or international climate law at 77%, or have a one-year timetable at 74%. Those with a specific numeric target or a reference to the private sector have 73%. In contrast, those with a multi-year timetable have 72%, those referring to a core international organisation 71% and those referring to a specific country or region 45%.
A more powerful push, suggesting a rise in compliance with climate commitments by 21%, is holding a G7 environment ministers meeting. Since 1985, in the 21 years with one such meeting, summit climate compliance averaged 89%, and the 14 years with none averaged only 68%. The years when G7 leaders created a G7 official-level body on the environment correlated with a 33% increased compliance with leaders’ climate commitments that year.
Surrounding summit support from the United Nations is correlated with 6% higher climate compliance. In the few years with a high-level UN climate summit, G7 climate compliance averaged 79%, and those with none averaged 73%.
Climate commitments with references to Indigenous peoples had the same compliance as those without. Yet as Indigenous peoples protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity, G7 leaders should work with them in sincere ways.
Thus G7 leaders at Elmau should:
- strongly support the Paris Agreement and Glasgow Climate Pact, including by specifying short-term one-year timelines to ensure all G7 members meet their net zero goals by 2050;
- include similar short-term timelines to end all fossil fuel subsidies;
- create an official-level body on nature-based solutions for climate change, to support implementation of the G7’s commitments on mitigation and adaptation and to support environmental, economic and social goals, including protecting forests; and
- create a permanent space at the G7 outreach table for Indigenous leaders.