G7 accused of ‘backsliding’ on climate goals over energy security fears

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G7 leaders have been accused of “backsliding” on climate goals after they watered down pledges to halt fossil fuel investment because of fears over energy security.

Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has forced Europe to reduce its reliance on gas from Russia and sparked fears of energy shortages this winter as Moscow squeezes supplies.

In its final communique from this week’s summit, the G7 said investment in liquefied natural gas was a “necessary response to the current crisis”. It added: “In these exceptional circumstances, publicly-supported investment in the gas sector can be appropriate as a temporary response.”

Some countries, including Germany, have already said they will restart mothballed coal power stations in a bid to keep the lights and heating on this winter.

Climate groups criticised the G7 for failing to deliver new climate finance pledges, and for its renewed focus on gas. “We cannot afford this kind of backsliding. There are lives on the line,” said Laurie van der Burg, campaigner at Oil Change International, a US-based campaign group.

The G7 also added a loophole to a previous pledge to end investments in overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of this year, saying there would be an exception “in limited circumstances clearly defined by each country consistent with a 1.5C warming limit”.

Under the 2015 Paris accord, almost 200 countries agreed to limit global warming to 2C or ideally 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, in order to avoid triggering catastrophic weather events.

Alex Scott, programme leader at E3G, a climate think-tank, said that the G7 summit was “between backsliding and just stalling altogether”.

“We are not seeing this G7 accelerate their climate commitments,” she said. “This is a failure on [Chancellor Olaf] Scholz’s part: he did not live up to Merkel’s legacy.”

The results of the G7 summit will intensify the concerns of environmental groups ahead of the UN’s COP27 climate summit in November. All 196 countries that signed the Paris climate accord are supposed to come up with improved climate targets ahead of COP27 but almost none have done so.

Friederike Röder, senior director at Global Citizen, a US non-profit organisation that advocates for environmental protection, said the outcome of the G7 meeting was “very disappointing”. She pointed to the group’s failure to make meaningful new climate finance commitments, and set a deadline for coal phaseout.

Germany and Italy, which both face gas shortages because of the war in Ukraine, wanted support for gas in the G7 communique.

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi said: “In the present situation we will have short-term needs that will require large investment in gas infrastructure, in developing countries and elsewhere.” He added that this infrastructure could be converted to carry hydrogen later, so that long-term climate goals can still be met.

However, after pushback from the UK and France over the weekend, the final G7 text also included limitations on gas investments, which it said must be “consistent with a 1.5C warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement”.

That language is similar to what the G7 environment ministers previously agreed in May.

“They have spent a lot of political energy getting this clause in the final text, to no end. They are back to where they were,” said Scott.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said gas would “be needed for the transition phase” but that Germany’s climate targets remained intact.

“We all agree where the future lies and it’s not with gas. That’s particularly the case for Germany — we will be carbon neutral by 2045 and that will have consequences for our use of fossil fuels,” he said.

The G7 also proposed new funding partnerships with India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Senegal, which would help to provide financing for those countries to transition toward clean energy.

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