Climate change, clean energy and oceans will be key priorities at the G7 Charlevoix Summit on 8–9 June 2018, and will be reinforced at the G7’s environment and energy ministers’ meeting. Given the compounding, urgent threat of climate change and environmental degradation, it is crucial that G7 leaders make quality commitments and comply fully with them. Despite the challenges brought by climate-sceptical US president Donald Trump, the G7 can improve its commitments and compliance, given its past performance and vulnerabilities to the very visible impacts of climate change within G7 members themselves.
The G7 made its first collective, future-oriented, politically binding commitment on climate change in 1985 when it agreed to “address … climatic change” and protect the ozone layer. Since then, it has made 332 climate change commitments.
On energy, the G7 made its first commitment at its first summit at Rambouillet, France, back in 1975. Its first clean energy commitment came at the 1978 Bonn Summit, where leaders promised to “bring into use renewable energy technologies … within one year”. This, along with a reduction in oil imports, would diversify the energy mix in response to the oil crisis of 1973 and the looming one of 1979. Since then, the G7 has made 453 energy commitments, with 50 referring to “renewable energy” and others emphasising clean energy technologies and energy efficiency.
On oceans, the G7 made its first commitment at the 1986 Tokyo Summit. It was on maritime security. The first environment-related oceans commitment was at Venice in 1987. Since then, the G7 has made 89 commitments on oceans. Of these, half were dedicated to protecting the oceans, with just four connecting this to climate change.
These commitments matter only insofar as G7 members comply with them after they are made. The G7 Research Group has assessed 98 commitments on climate change, clean energy and clean oceans for compliance the year after each commitment was made. It found that average compliance was 74%.
On climate change, with 83 commitments assessed, compliance averaged 73%. On energy, with 20 commitments assessed, it averaged a high 81%. On the 12 clean energy commitments, compliance was 79%. The four commitments on clean oceans had compliance of 75%. Here, the two commitments on ocean observation had compliance of 88%. The one that referenced water pollution and climate change had 65%, and the one that referenced wave and tidal energy had 61%.
The G7 thus substantially keeps these promises it makes.
Threats to biodiversity
On climate change, and its key driver of energy, the G7 saw strong success in its invention phase, during which time the greenhouse gas emissions of the G7 and other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development declined for five years in a row. However, in the G7’s second and third phases, the emissions of the European Union members of the G7 declined, but those of the non-EU members rose, leading to a net overall rise. Meanwhile, the world’s oceans have warmed dramatically, leading to massive coral bleaching and acidification, compounded by overconsumption, dead zones and plastics pollution leading to biodiversity loss. Thus, although G7 commitments and compliance brought benefits at the start, they have not been nearly enough.
To improve, G7 leaders and ministers can employ proven low-cost accountability measures that they directly control. These include making more same-subject commitments, holding an environment ministerial meeting and mobilising the core organisations through which the G7’s commitments will be implemented.
They also need to make more timely, well-tailored and ambitious commitments. Here, G7 members should:
- Raise the ambition of their nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement by committing to divest from the fossil fuel economy and to invest in a circular economy;
- Support the Arctic Council on mitigating black carbon and resource extraction as the ice melts;
- Support the Food and Agriculture Organization’s work on climate-smart agriculture;
- Support the Financial Stability Board on climate-related
- Preserve natural infrastructure
and carbon sinks, namely forests and oceans; and,
- Mainstream climate change, clean energy and clean oceans into all issues and ministerial meetings that this year’s G7 will address.