Talk, but no firm climate plans from G7 meetings in U.K.

The issue of global climate finance was seen as crucial to the success of the meetings of G7 leaders in the U.K. on June 11-13, as outlined in “As leaders gather for G-7, a key question: Will rich countries help poor ones grapple with climate change?” in The Washington Post (June 7). In the meeting aftermath, reaction is muted and disappointed: according to The Guardian headline, “G7 reaffirmed goals but failed to provide funds needed to reach them, experts say”. Guardian reporter Fiona Harvey quotes the executive director of Greenpeace, who says: “The G7 have failed to set us up for a successful Cop26, as trust is sorely lacking between rich and developing countries.”  Common Dreams assembles the harshest reactions of all, in  “On Climate and Covid-19 Emergencies, G7 Judged a ‘Colossal Failure’ for All the World to See” – which quotes the representative from Oxfam, who states that the leaders of the richest nations “have completely failed to meet the challenges of our times. Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world. In the face of these challenges the G7 have chosen to cook the books on vaccines and continue to cook the planet.”  

What did the G7 actually say? The G7 Leaders Communique covered a wide range of topics, with statements about health, economic recovery and jobs, free and fair trade, future frontiers, gender equality, global responsibility and international action – and Climate and the Environment.  As well as the Communique, the G7 leaders approved the Build Back Better World (B3W)  partnership, designed to mobilize private sector capital in four areas—climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality . The B3W statement explicitly states: “The investments will be made in a manner consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.” And in recognition of the importance of biodiversity and conservation in the climate fight, the 2030 G7 Nature Compact pledges new global targets to conserve or protect at least 30% of global land and ocean.

  “Canada Boosts Finance Commitment As G7 Falls Short On Climate, Vaccines” in The Energy Mix  summarizes reaction, including from Oxfam Canada and Climate Action Network Canada – whose full statement is here .  It highlights the “good news” of Canada’s largest-ever climate finance pledge, which doubles our climate finance to $5.36 billion over the next five years for vulnerable nations.  

While the CBC report displays their typical lack of interest in climate issues, the press release from Prime Minister Trudeau’s office placed most emphasis on the climate change issue, describing the leaders’ “bold action”, and continuing:  

“…. the G7 leaders have each committed to increased 2030 targets, which will cut the G7’s collective emissions by around half compared to 2010. .. That’s why Prime Minister Trudeau announced a doubling of Canada’s climate finance, from $2.65 billion in 2015 to $5.3 billion over five years, including increased support for adaptation, as well as nature and nature-based solutions that are in line with the G7 Nature Compact. The Prime Minister also announced Canada will increase its provision of grants to 40 per cent, up from 30 per cent previously, for improved access by impacted communities. This funding will help developing countries build domestic capacity to take climate action, build resiliency, and reduce pollution, including by finding nature-based solutions to climate change like protecting biodiversity and planting trees, and supporting the transition to clean energy and the phasing-out of coal.

….. As G7 Leaders met to discuss climate change, Canada took further action at home to curb harmful coal emissions, announcing a new policy statement on new thermal coal mining and expansion projects that explains that these projects are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects and are not aligned with Canada’s domestic and international climate change commitments.  …..

G7 leaders also adopted the 2030 G7 Nature Compact, committing to conserve and protect at least 30 per cent of global and domestic land and ocean by 2030, which matches Canada’s ambitious domestic target. …”

Alberta government backtracks, promising public consultations on coal mining policy

The province of Alberta cancelled its own long-standing regulations regarding coal mining exploration, leases and development in May 2020,  but the government was forced to reverse course – as stated in a press release in February 8, Alberta’s 1976 coal policy reinstated .  The policy was not only reinstated, but the government promises “we will implement further protections and consult with Albertans on a new, modern coal policy.” The Narwhal provides an overview of events and the political miscalculations in  “How a public uprising forced a province built on fossil fuels to reverse course on coal mining”   – quoting a political science professor at the University of Alberta who calls the public pressure “unprecedented” –  “The government simply did not imagine that this kind of mobilization could happen” .  The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society website has monitored the issue in a series of news releases and hosts an online campaign against coal development, still expressing concern about the government’s intentions.  The article in The Narwhal implies that the current Kenny government is out of touch with the diversity of opinion in Alberta – a diversity reflected in a poll released by Pembina Institute in February, showing  Albertan attitudes to the oil and gas industry and to the goal of net-zero emissions.

In the interim before the consultation is launched, the National Observer published “There is no such thing as a contamination-free coal mine, top scientist warns Albertans” (Feb. 16)  –  summarizing a 2019 evaluation of the Benga Mining proposal for an open-pit coal mine at Grassy Mountain near the Crowsnest Pass in the Rockies, which concluded: “The Grassy Mountain Coal Project will create a ticking environmental time-bomb resulting from selenium pollution of high quality, high value aquatic habitats and culminate in poisoning of provincially and federally protected fish.”

Just Transition for the coal industry is expensive – but cheaper than failure to address the needs

July 2017 saw the release of  Lessons from Previous Coal Transitions:  High-level Summary for Decision-makers , a synthesis report of case studies of past coal mining transitions in Spain, U.K., the Netherlands, Poland, U.S., and the Czech Republic – some as far back as the 1970’s.  Some key take-aways from the report:  “Because of the large scale and complexity of the challenges to be addressed, the earlier that actors (i.e. workers, companies and regions) anticipated, accepted and began to implement steps to prepare and cushion the shock of the transition, the better the results”; “the aggregate social costs to the state of a failure to invest in the transition of workers and regions are often much higher that the costs of not investing from an overall societal perspective.” While the level of cost details varies in the case studies, it is clear that costs are significant.  For example, the case study of Limburg, Netherlands states that the national government spent approximately 11.6 billion Euros (in today’s prices) on national subsidies to support coal prices and regional reconversion, in addition to  several 100 million per year in EU funds. “One estimate also suggested that in the Dutch case, all told, regional reinvestment in new economic activities also cost about 300 to 400 000€/per long-term job created.”  Limburg is also cited as “remarkable for the relatively consensual nature of the transition between unions, company and government.”  (see page 10).

The Synthesis report and individual case study reports of the six countries are available here . These are the work of the Research and Dialogue on Coal Transitions project, a large-scale research project led by Climate Strategies and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) , which also sponsors the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.  Future reports scheduled for 2018: a Global report, and a Round Table on the Future of Coal.