G7’s climate wishlist, and the realities of efforts to cap warming
A series of recent studies and reports have once again sounded the red alert on climate change, saying the situation was worsening rapidly, and the window of opportunity for effective action was narrowing faster than ever before.
Last week, the World Meteorological Organisation said the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold was likely to be breached, at least temporarily, over the next five years. It also said that at least one of the next five years was almost certain to become the warmest year on record.
A few other studies have suggested that this year, 2023, is on track to become the warmest ever, surpassing 2016. New research claims that the heat wave in India and some neighbouring countries last month was almost certainly due to climate change, the probability of its occurrence having been increased at least 30 times by global warming.
Studies calling for an immediate scale-up of climate action have been appearing almost weekly now. However, the response, though quite substantive in the last few years, does not seem to be able to keep pace. The latest example of the response gap has come from the G7 — first after the meeting of their climate ministers last month, and now following the leaders’ summit.
The G7 — a group of rich and developed nations with the economic heft to create the necessary momentum for global change — repeatedly acknowledged the urgency of the problem but offered little in terms of scaled-up action. In its final communique in Hiroshima, Japan, the G7 listed a set of milestones that need to be achieved for a realistic chance of containing the global rise in temperatures to within 1.5 degree Celsius.
Seeking ‘peak’ in 2025
The G7 stressed on the need for a global peak in emissions by 2025. The G7 — the US, the UK, Germany, Italy, Japan, France and Canada — claimed that their emissions had already “peaked”, and asked all “major economies” to ensure that their individual emissions do not continue to rise beyond 2025.
“Major economies” is not defined, but in the context of climate change, it usually includes countries like India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Russia, each of which is a significant emitter.
The 2025 peak year is not mandated under the Paris Agreement or any other international decision. India has long made it clear that it sees its emissions growing well into the next decade. Even China, the world’s largest emitter, has indicated that it would peak only towards the end of this decade.
Still, a global peak of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 is not implausible. The biggest emissions year so far has been 2019 — about 55 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. After a dramatic drop in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, emissions rose again in 2021, the last year for which data are available, but remained lower than in 2019.
While emissions of developing countries, including India, are still increasing, most of the rich and industrialised nations are now seeing a decline, though not at the required pace. Estimates from UN Climate Change suggest that if all countries took only those measures that they have promised so far, emissions in 2030 would be about 11% higher than 2010 levels.
Net-zero by 2050
The G7 reiterated its commitment to turn net-zero by 2050, and asked all ‘major economies’ to attain net-zero status by that year and to come up with detailed road maps to reach the target.
Science says that the world as a whole must become net zero by mid-century in order to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius target. Interestingly, the 1.5 degree Celsius milestone is likely to be achieved a lot sooner — not just as part of annual fluctuation but also on a more stable basis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said this could happen before 2040 — but that it was possible to pull back from there, if aggressive action on climate continued. One of the prerequisites of the pullback is global net-zero by 2050.
China has said it would turn net-zero only in 2060, while India has set 2070 as the target. Some other countries, including big emitters like Russia and Saudi Arabia, have 2060 as their net-zero targets.
If these countries do not become net-zero by 2050, it would mean that the other major emitters, mainly the US and the European Union, would have to reach there much earlier. As of now, only Germany has said it would attain net-zero status by 2045.
However, the post-2050 targets of major developing countries are not set in stone. With fast changing technologies, and rapid adoption of cleaner sources of energy, the situation could alter significantly over the next decade. But countries like India would want to keep some wiggle room for themselves, and not make a commitment that they are not mandated to do.
End to fossil fuels
The G7 countries put no deadline to ending the use of fossil fuels, only saying that they were committed to accelerating the phase-out of “unabated fossil fuels” in line with 1.5 degree Celsius trajectories. “Unabated” is not clearly defined; they also said they would eliminate “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” by 2025 or earlier, without defining “inefficient subsidies”.
The G7 also claimed they had stopped financing new fossil fuel-based energy projects “except in limited circumstances”.
These circumstances include the need to end the dependence on Russian gas, because of which new investments in the gas sector would be considered legitimate.