G7 Leaders Up the Ante on Climate Action

(3BL Media/Justmeans) When the leaders of the world’s largest economies, United States, Germany, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, France, and Italy, otherwise known as the G7, met last week to discuss the global economy, climate and energy were high on the agenda, given the heightened level of concern and the major climate talks coming up later this year in Paris.

The group took a bold step, pledging to completely phase out greenhouse gas emissions by the century’s end, and to cut somewhere between 40 and 70% by 2050. Can they back it up? Not by themselves. These seven countries currently represent about a third of the world’s GHG emissions. That means they can have a significant impact, but they can’t do it without help, especially from rapidly growing economies like China (now the #1 emitter), India (#4) and Russia (#5). That will not be easy, considering that even among those in the G7, consensus did not come easily. Both Canada and Japan pushed back before finally agreeing to sign on to the statement that said, “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 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavor. To this end we also commit to develop long term national low-carbon strategies.”

However, if the goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees or less, the goal of eliminating emissions by the end of the century is not enough. Even the 40 to 70% cuts mentioned by 2050 will fall short, even at the higher end, according to some sources. The carbon calculus shows that we have used up about two-thirds of the total emissions limit of around 3,200 gigatonnes that must be maintained if we hope to keep the climate from spinning out of control. At the current rate of emissions, we will run through that in the next 27 years. That’s a frightening thought when you consider that, at this point, the rate is still going up (albeit more slowly than it was a few years ago). That trend has to be dramatically reversed if the goal is to be met. Keep in mind that most greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for a hundred years or more, so even when we stop emitting, it will take a while for the concentration to begin falling. It also means that when we stop, we need to stop for good, or at least the next hundred years. Given the way that these emissions accumulate in the system, the sooner we act, the better.

2014 is now on the books as the hottest year on record, underscoring the need for a global agreement at the COP21 meeting in Paris this December. While voluntary actions on the part of numerous political entities, individuals, and corporations have helped to slow the rate of increase, there is no question that strong government action is required to bring those into compliance who are not inclined to do so on their own.

While the G7 did not discuss specific solutions, they did talk about the role of natural gas, and they renewed their commitment to a $100 billion target for the Green Climate Fund, which aims to help developing countries both reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.

Many experts now believe that the most effective way to reign in emissions is to put a global price on carbon. Just this week, a group of six of the world’s largest energy companies, including Shell and BP, called on governments to take action by establishing a carbon market.

"We firmly believe that carbon pricing will discourage high carbon options and reduce uncertainty that will help stimulate investments in the right low carbon technologies and the right resources at the right pace." The joint letter was signed by the CEO’s of the companies, which also included BG Group, Eni, Statoil and Total. The letter, which was sent to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Conference, expressed concern over the current trend of greenhouse gas emissions with respect to the target that has been established by the scientific community.

Even though a price on carbon would raise the price of their products, the leaders indicated that it would add stability and direction to the market. While some early efforts at carbon pricing are viewed as having failed, the consensus here is that the price needs to be higher, perhaps as much as $80-100 per ton. At those prices, which would be applied uniformly to all suppliers, they would tilt the table towards the lower carbon options including, not only renewables, but sequestration options as well.

If even the oil companies are asking for it, why is it so difficult to get it done? Here in the US, a carbon fee and dividend program, has been gathering grassroots support as well as in Congress. It certainly seems as if the stage is set.  If we don’t see something like this enacted by the end of this year, by the time Paris adjourns, that would have to be seen as a major failure. I’m optimistic that we can get there.

Image credit: Number 10: Flickr Creative Commons


G7ChinaIndiaRussiaUSCanadaJapanGermanyGreat BritainFranceItalyBG GroupEniStatoilBPShellTotalUNFCCCParis Conferencefee and dividendCOP21