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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

G7 nations agree to phase out coal by 2035… but with caveats


Coal plant silhouetted against sunset sky, with billowing vapours heading skywards Photo: Pixabay
Putting an end to coal – the most polluting of all fossil fuels – has been a contentious issue at international climate talks in recent years

Photo: Pixabay

Among the commitments made at last week’s G7 Climate, Energy and Environment Ministers meeting in Turin, Italy, was an agreement to phase out coal by 2035. Although sending a clear message on the level of commitment needed to address the challenge of climate change, some environmental campaigners argue that the target is still ‘too little, too late’.

The latest meeting of ministers from the G7 nations Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and US, which account for 30% of global GDP and 21% of CO2 emissions, closed with the adoption of a Joint Declaration that aims to meet the goals of the UAE Consensus agreed at COP28. The Consensus stipulates tripling global renewable energy capacity, doubling global energy efficiency improvements by 2030 and accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels in a ‘just, orderly and equitable manner’.


Among the headline G7 announcements was a commitment to phasing out fossil fuels, with the first step being to phase out coal across the G7 states ‘in the first half of the 2030s’, that is, by 2035; and moves to encourage the strong growth of renewables through a sixfold growth in energy storage capacity, from 230 GW in 2022 to 1,500 GW in 2030.


Putting an end to coal – the most polluting of all fossil fuels – has been a contentious issue at international climate talks, with COP28 in Dubai last year calling for a ‘transitioning away’ from fossil fuels but failing to agree on an actual phase-out date for coal, oil or gas. Proposals to end coal in previous G7 meetings have also failed to secure any specific target dates, with strong resistance from Japan, Germany and the US, which rely on it for 32%, 27% and 16% of their electricity generation, respectively, according to thinktank Ember.


Although the Joint Declaration signed at the latest G7 meeting was said to have unanimous support, there were two important caveats regarding the 2035 coal phase out date. The first relates to the use of the term ‘unabated’ coal power in the document. Coal-fired plants equipped with carbon capture technologies would be allowed to continue to operate beyond 2035. There is also a caveat that would allow countries to choose an alternative date, so long as the timeline was ‘consistent with keeping a limit of 1.5°C temperature rise within reach, in line with countries’ net-zero pathways.’


The G7 is seen by many as a leader in global climate policy, with its decisions often influencing the wider G20, which includes big greenhouse gas emitters such as China and India, as well as major fossil fuel producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia.


However, some environmental organisations argued that the G7’s coal phase-out announcement didn’t go far enough. Tracy Carty, Global Climate Politics Expert, Greenpeace International, said: ‘The G7 phasing out coal in the first half of the 2030s would be too little, too late. Fossil fuels are destroying people and the planet and a commitment to rapidly phase out all fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – is urgently needed.’


Meanwhile, analysis by Climate Analytics suggests that all coal use in G7 nations needs to end by 2030 at the latest – and natural gas use should end by 2035 – in order to prevent global warming exceeding the 1.5°C threshold.


Other measures outlined in the G7 Joint Declaration included commitments to promote collaboration in the fusion energy sector; break away from remaining Russian gas imports; reduce methane emissions; eliminate non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions; increase the security and sustainability of critical raw materials; create a ‘G7 Hub’ to accelerate actions on adaptation; and ensure a just transition to clean energy in developing countries, particularly in Africa.