coal plants

G7 nations pledge to phase out coal

Image credit: DT

Ministers from the world’s seven richest democracies have agreed to significantly curb the use of coal and other fossil fuels in electricity production, although they have not set a target date for doing so.

Climate and energy ministers from the Group of Seven nations have announced that they will aim to largely end greenhouse gas emissions from their energy sectors by 2035, with the goal of an “eventual” complete phaseout.

The announcement by Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Canada and the US comes at the end of a three-day summit in Berlin and follows the European Union’s decision to find new energy sources and cut its reliance on Russian oil and gas as a response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The ministers also said they would raise their ambitions with regard to renewable energies and "rapidly scale up the necessary technologies and policies for the clean energy transition."

Germany, the current chair of the G7, has been one of the main drivers of this commitment. After taking office in December, the German coalition government vowed to bring forward the country's own coal phaseout plan by eight years to 2030 and has been pushing other G7 nations to bring forward their plans, despite the disruptions in gas supplies caused by the war.

Ministers from the G7 countries also announced a target to have a “highly decarbonised road sector by 2030”, meaning that electric vehicles would dominate new car sales by the end of the decade.

The agreements, which will be put to leaders next month at the G7 summit in Elmau, Germany, were largely welcomed by climate activists.

“The 2035 target for power sector decarbonisation is a real breakthrough. In practice, this means countries need to phase out coal by 2030 at the latest,” said Luca Bergamaschi, director of Rome-based campaign group ECCO.

Germany’s energy and climate minister, Robert Habeck, said the 40-page communiqué could not hide the fact that G7 countries had long been laggards in combating global warming, “but we’re trying to make up for those things that didn’t go so well in the past, including on climate finance.”

Developing countries have for years demanded a clear commitment that they will receive funds to cope with the destruction wrought by climate change, as well as with the costs attached to the transition to a greener economy. Wealthier nations have resisted the idea, however, for fear of being held liable for costly disasters linked to their emissions.

In a move aimed at ending this disparity, the G7 recognised for the first time the need to provide developing countries with additional financial aid to cope with the loss and damage caused by global warming.

“After years of roadblocks, the G7 finally recognise that they need to financially support poor countries in addressing climate-related losses and damages,” said David Ryfisch of the Berlin-based environmental campaign group Germanwatch.

“That recognition is not enough: they need to put actual money on the table."

Coal is a heavily polluting fossil fuel that is responsible for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans. While there are ways to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, experts say it is almost impossible to reduce it to zero, meaning it will likely have to be the first fossil fuel to be phased out.

G7 members Britain, France and Italy have already set themselves deadlines to stop burning coal for electricity in the next few years, although the UK has recently decided to postpone some of the planned closures of its coal power plants in light of predicted energy shortages.

Meanwhile, Germany and Canada are aiming for 2030, while the Biden administration has set a target of ending fossil fuel use for electricity generation in the US by 2035.

Despite these pledges, global coal is expected to reach an all-time high by the end of 2022, if current trends continue. 

In order to ensure that tackling climate change is a global effort, the G7 nations are expected to propose similar commitments in a meeting later this year of the broader Group of 20 leading and emerging economies, who are collectively responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions.

Getting all G20 countries to sign on to the ambitious targets set by some of the most advanced economies will be difficult, as countries such as China, India and Indonesia remain heavily reliant on coal. China has in fact revealed plans to boost its coal production capacity in the coming months. 

“Time is literally running out,” Habeck said, calling climate change “the challenge of our political generation”.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles