- Inflation and energy security are likely to dominate the G7 summit at the expense of climate action.
- President Joe Biden called for a gas-tax holiday while some European countries revert to coal.
- Climate advocates say now is the time to invest in renewable energy, not fossil fuels.
Something is loading.
In 2007, then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid out the climate crisis this way: “It is not five minutes to midnight. It’s five past midnight.”
It seems Germany will need a few more minutes.
When Europe’s largest economy took over the G7 presidency earlier this year, the climate crisis was its top priority. Now, Russia’s war in Ukraine has pushed energy security and energy prices to the top of the agenda — likely at the expense of the climate — for a G7 gathering that kicks off Sunday at a luxury resort in the Bavarian Alps.
“A rethink has arisen because Putin is cutting off major supplies of gas exports,” said John Kirton, the director of the G7 and G20 Research Group managed by the University of Toronto. “The clear and present danger the G7 summit has to address is inflation and curbing gas prices at the pump.”
Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria are reverting to coal-fired power to fill a gap left by Russia’s state-controlled energy company, Gazprom, which cut natural-gas flows to Germany by about 60% last week. It’s a step backward because coal is more polluting than natural gas. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also said he wants to pursue gas projects in Senegal.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden called on Congress to enact a federal gas-tax holiday. He’s also pushing domestic and international oil majors to pump more.
These actions are at odds with promises that G7 environment ministers made at a May meeting, including ending financing for foreign fossil-fuel projects by year’s end and domestic subsidies by 2025; largely cleaning up electricity grids by 2035; and phasing out “unabated” coal power — production that isn’t paired with carbon capture and storage technology.
Political leaders say the pauses are temporary. The German government told reporters on Monday it can keep its promise to phase out coal by 2030 — a target other Group of 7 nations like Japan and the US have been resistant to agree to.
But Kirton said greater assurances are needed.
“G7 leaders should agree on quantitative measures and timetables for how temporary this will be,” he said. “If it’s just a few months to shore up energy supplies through the end of the year, OK. But if it’s longer than that, this will be another setback.”
Kirton said one promising sign is Indonesia’s attendance at the G7. The country was the world’s largest exporter of coal by tonnage in 2019 and needs financing from wealthier nations to transition to renewables.
One model is a partnership announced with South Africa last year. The European Union, the UK, and the US committed an initial $8.5 billion to South Africa’s effort to ditch coal.
Geopolitical upheaval and rising inflation have underscored the urgency of investing in clean energy, said María Mendiluce, the CEO of the We Mean Business Coalition, a network of nonprofits and corporations.
The coalition supports policies such as eliminating coal, pushing electric-vehicle adoption, and putting a price on carbon. Such measures could create nearly 2 million jobs by 2025 across G7 countries, according to research by We Mean Business and Cambridge Econometrics. By 2035, the average person in these countries could save 45%, or $825, per year on energy bills.
“For a politician, I think the case for the transition to clean energy is super clear,” Mendiluce said. “It reduces energy bills, creates millions of jobs, and brings more energy security because renewable sources take away some geopolitical pressure.”