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By Dean Scott
June 8 — The Group of Seven industrialized countries June 8 backed a goal to decarbonize the world economy by 2100 as well as a global effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent to 70 percent by 2050, from 2010 levels.
The pledges offered from G-7 leaders at the end of their June 7–8 meeting in Schloss Elmau, Germany, were seen as an effort to demonstrate their leadership on efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions under an international climate accord headed for final negotiations at end-of-year talks in Paris.
Decarbonizing the economy would require a global transition away from oil, coal and other fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and the offsetting of any new greenhouse gases with efforts ranging from tree planting to technologies that capture and store carbon dioxide emitted by coal-fired power plants.
“We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long term, including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050,” the leaders said in their declaration.
The G-7 countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.
With the Paris talks—with nearly 200 nations participating—less than six months away, only 11 parties have submitted pledges outlining the actions they would take under the post-2020 agreement: Andorra, Canada, Gabon, Latvia and the European Commission on behalf of the European Union, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Russia, Switzerland and the U.S. In their declaration, the G-7 leaders called upon all countries to put their pledges on the table and “do so well in advance” of the Nov. 30—Dec. 11 Paris summit.
President Barack Obama noted in his remarks at the conclusion of the leaders' summit that “all of the G-7 countries have put forward” their targets toward the climate accord, and he encouraged “other significant” emitters—which include China, which has vowed its emissions will peak by 2030 but has yet to formally submit its pledge—to put their offers on the table.
The nearly 200 countries negotiating the climate accord have vowed to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic climate impacts, a pledge that dates to the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.
“Mindful of this goal,” as well as increasingly dire warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “we emphasize that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century,” the G-7 leaders said in their June 8 declaration.
The G-7 statement was largely hailed as significant progress by environmental and other groups that support action to address climate change, which are pushing to get similar global pledges—from a goal of net-zero emissions by 2100 to a complete phase-out of fossil fuels by midcentury—included in the final climate deal.
“To my mind, this is truly groundbreaking. This is the first time the concept of decarbonization has been formally put forward by a group like the G-7,” Ria Voorhaar, spokeswoman for Climate Action Network, a coalition of environmental groups, told Bloomberg BNA. “A statement like this cannot be underplayed in its significance.”
The pledge acts as a long-term signal from world leaders to investors, suggesting future policies will likely steer investment toward renewable energy sources, she said.
“This is yet another signal that the end of the fossil fuel era is inevitable and the dawning of the age of renewables is unstoppable,” Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists' director of strategy and policy, said in a statement. But G-7 countries also should work to ratchet up their pledges to cut emissions “to do their fair share of meeting this global goal,” he said.
Many of the G-7 nations have yet to make significant progress toward decarbonizing their own economies, according to a June 6 report from Oxfam.
Five of the seven countries, including Germany, the host of this year's G-7 summit, “are actually burning more coal since 2009, the year of the Copenhagen climate summit,” said the Oxfam report, Let Them Eat Coal. Of the seven, only two—the U.S. and Canada—have reduced their coal consumption since 2009, it said.
The two-day G-7 meeting coincided with the latest round of international climate negotiations, which also are being held in Germany and are slated to conclude June 11. Negotiators meeting in Bonn have struggled to condense a massive draft agreement into a more manageable text ahead of the Paris talks.
If reached, the final agreement to be signed in Paris is expected to be less a binding treaty and more a hybrid agreement containing binding and nonbinding elements. For example, each country is to offer a pledge to address its emissions, backed by domestic policies or laws, but they could be subject to binding requirements for measuring and verifying whether those actions actually are cutting greenhouse gases.
In their declaration, the G-7 leaders said the Paris accord “should enhance transparency and accountability including through binding rules at its core to track progress towards achieving” the emissions cuts pledged by nations. They also said the agreement “should promote increased ambition over time.”
Allowing the agreement to be strengthened gradually “should enable all countries to follow a low-carbon and resilient development pathway in line with the global goal” to keep global temperatures from increasing beyond the 2 degree C threshold, the declaration said.
The leaders also pledged to “intensify” their support for countries particularly vulnerable to climate change by increasing support for more resilient infrastructure, development of early warning systems for severe storms and increasing their population's access to insurance.
In addition, they reaffirmed their pledge to make the Green Climate Fund fully operational in 2015. The GCF is part of a large commitment industrialized nations pledged to assist nations most vulnerable to climate change, which is to total $100 billion a year beginning in 2020.
The declaration also called for “the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” and encouraged all countries to scrap such financial support. In addition, the G-7 leaders pledged to continue efforts to gradually reduce global use and production of hydrofluorocarbons, a highly potent greenhouse gas, by amending the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
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