At their Hiroshima Summit, G7 leaders must ensure short-term energy security while collectively distancing their policies and revenue streams from fossil fuel interests
On 19–21 May, G7 leaders will meet in Hiroshima to address many pressing, interconnected and competing global challenges. At the top of the agenda are geopolitical threats to the rules-based international order, not least the threat of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia. But a more insidious threat persists: fossil fuels.
G7 leaders thus must ensure short-term energy security, amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, while preventing the fossil fuel sector from blocking the swift restructuring of the global energy system. They can do several things to improve compliance with their climate commitments. Above all, they must commit to securing a healthy planet by collectively distancing their policies and revenue streams from fossil fuel interests.
The G7 has devoted only 5% of its communiqués to climate change, in two distinct phases. The first is from 1979, when climate first appeared, to 2004, when the most attention to climate change was only 6% of the communiqué, and the average was only 2% per summit. Then in 2005, under the UK’s leadership, deliberation rose to 9%. From 2005 to 2022, deliberation increased to average 13% per summit. The 2022 Elmau Summit jumped to 25%, second only to the 2009 summit with 33%.
The G7 has made 479 climate commitments, or 7% of the total across all subjects. They arise in the same two phases as with the conclusions, but with a smaller rise. Between 1979 and 2004, the G7 made 5% of its commitments on climate change per summit. Between 2005 and 2022, it made 9% – a 4% rise.
From the 2005 summit to the 2010 summit, climate change averaged a relatively high 13% of commitments. Another phase may now have started, as the 2021 summit made 13% on climate change and the 2022 summit made 15%.
The G7 Research Group has tracked G7 members’ compliance with 99 (21%) climate commitments in the year after each was made. Compliance averages 74%, nearly on par with overall compliance of 76% across all subjects. Between 1979 and 2004, average climate compliance was 72%. Between 2005 and 2022, it rose only 4%, to 76%. In the G7’s near 50-year existence, slow and steady defines G7 climate performance, even as the climate change crisis has gotten progressively worse.
Causes and corrections
Slow and steady will not win the race to stop climate change. Nonetheless the G7 can shift its climate compliance trajectory upwards by doing several things.
First, G7 leaders can explicitly mobilise more resources for their climate commitments that have had historically lower compliance. The lowest compliance, at 45%, is with commitments to help a specific developing country with a specific problem (such as helping Brazil protect its tropical forests or Haiti recover from a natural disaster); with a commitment to engage with civil society, with 50%; and with a commitment to support a regional initiative, with 50%. In sharp contrast, compliance is 23%–28% higher with commitments that seek to support and engage with the corporate world. Climate change is a global problem felt locally; regional and local people and communities within and beyond the G7 need greater support.
This includes – but means more than – financial support. At 68%, commitments that mobilise money for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries have among the lowest compliance. The G7 must provide new and additional funding to compensate for the disproportionate impact of members’ industrial pursuits on the Global South and on marginalised groups within their own borders.
International norms and law seem to encourage compliance. Commitments with such references have the highest compliance of 77% (after commitments that reference the G7 itself, with 78%). This is particularly salient today amid democratic decline and the rise of authoritarianism worldwide and its accompanying threat to the rules-based international order.
In fact, across all policy areas, G7 compliance is higher with commitments to improve democracy and its liberal value of human rights. This supports research that shows a positive correlation between democratic institutions and stronger climate change policy, and recommendations that the G7 commit to making a healthy climate a human right.
Thus, to improve its climate compliance, the G7 should redirect its attention and resources from the private sector, starting with the fossil fuel sector, to the regions, countries and segments of society with the least resources, the most harms and the least responsibility for climate change. It must continue to strengthen democratic institutions and human rights. This includes strengthening international norms and laws dealing with climate action. Here the G7 needs to address greenwashing, the spread of climate disinformation and the presence of the fossil fuel lobby at climate negotiations.