G7 ministers hail agreement on climate goals ahead of June summit

Energy chiefs say group of industrialised countries are in consensus over urgency of “deep” greenhouse gas cuts

G7 leaders at the 2014 Hague summit (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)

G7 leaders at the 2014 Hague summit (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)

By Ed King

Energy chiefs from the G7 group of industrialised countries say they are optimistic plans for a global climate change treaty will come together in Paris this December.

“I’ve never experienced so much agreement when it comes to the targets of the G7 countries,” said Germany’s economic affairs minister and vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday.

US energy secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters “we are going in the right direction” after two days of discussion in Hamburg. “The prospects are remarkably better than six or seven months ago.”

A joint statement released by the group, which numbers the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the UK as members stressed the “urgency” of “deep” greenhouse gas cuts.

The ministers called for a deal that was: “ambitious, robust and inclusive, and we remain committed to doing our part to effectively limit the increase in global temperature below 2C above pre-industrial level.”

Last month G7 foreign ministers released a communique stating climate change was a “foreign policy priority” and committing to help vulnerable states boost their resilience.

Road to Paris

June’s G7 summit, to be held at the luxury Schloss Elmau resort deep in the Alps, is one of a series of high-level meetings between heads of state between now and the UN Paris conference.

There nearly 200 countries are expected to thrash out plans for a deal to limit warming to below 2C above pre industrial levels, a target agreed by governments in 2009.

Five years ago in Copenhagen countries aimed for a similar goal, but talks ended in acrimony with leaders agreeing to a loose set of voluntary emission reduction proposals.

This time round feels different, says Joss Garman from the London-based IPPR think tank, who in 2009 was in the Danish capital working for a green NGO.

“The changing facts on the ground, together with the high-level diplomacy that has been going on over years in advance, means the hope that there is for a global agreement in Paris feels like it has more of a basis in reality than it did last time,” he argues.

The key facts on the ground are the falling costs and rising capacity of renewable energy, the relative decline of coal in China and last November’s US-China climate pact.

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Despite these advances the planet is still on course to warm as much as 4C by 2100, which would lead to more extreme weather events like droughts and floods, a UN panel of scientists has said.

“Paris might get us to 3C and we need a process after to get us to 2C,” says Jan Kowalzig, a climate advisor with Oxfam Germany.

What he wants to see from the G7 is less “waffle” and more specifics on how emissions will be cut and decoupled from economic growth, otherwise it’s hard to pin governments to any specific commitments.

Maas Goote, the EU’s top negotiator at Copenhagen agrees that details matter at this late stage of talks.

“I’d be looking for what said is between the lines. Sometimes it’s very obvious, for example specific targets, a direction or system we can set up so we can develop ambitious targets,” he says.

Diplomatic circus

Splitting the rhetoric from real progress will be problematic, as these meetings are coming thick and fast.

Last month the world’s top emitters gathered at the Major Economies Forum in DC, on the back of the World Bank spring conference.

That annual meeting ended with an unusual plea for Paris not to be judged on the level of carbon cuts it achieves, rather on the international regime it manages to set up.

This weekend German chancellor Angela Merkel hosts the Petersberg climate conference, next week Francois Hollande opens the Paris business and climate summit, and at the end of May Mexico will be the home of the annual Clean Energy Ministerial.

It’s a hectic round of meetings and will generate a substantial amount of punchy statements.

John Ashton, the UK’s chief climate diplomat from 2006-2012, remains unimpressed. “It’s not about how many meetings, it’s about what they are discussing,” he says.

So far Ashton has seen little evidence leaders are grappling with the hot issues that will be on the table in Paris; in particular the need for a long term decarbonisation goal.

“My sense is that people are ducking it – but the G7 should make a clear statement about the long term goal,” he says.

“The worry I have is that too many people are assuming there is a low risk road where everyone agrees because they are afraid to disagree.”

Finance for development

Money is one area Kowalzig hopes the Schloss Elmau meet can make progress.

He wants to see a stronger signal on how climate funds for poorer countries can be ramped up, and the G7 are committed to delivering the bulk of a $100 billion by 2020 pledge the developed world made in 2009.

Writing for RTCC, Liz Gallagher from the E3G think tank says leaders can also work out a plan to ensure major emitters like Brazil, India and China also play ball in December.

But a major problem facing the G7 is that within its ranks hide two climate laggards, Canada and Japan.

Neither country has officially indicated what level of Co2 cuts it will put forward for Paris – but rumours from Ottawa and Tokyo indicate they will not make waves.

Green groups are pushing Merkel to make a stand against prime ministers Stephen Harper and Shinzo Abe and demand they take a tougher line on climate.

Gallagher thinks the chancellor is edging back to the centre stage with Paris in mind and could spring a surprise in June, but Oliver Geden from the Berlin-based SWP think tank isn’t convinced.

“Merkel is not known for placing risky bets,” he says, pointing out she long ago handed the climate portfolio to her Social Democrat coalition partners.

Giant text

But tough words at these meetings can ensure the more complex textual negotiations that will take place at the UN run more smoothly later this year.

“The politicians can deviate from instructions but the negotiators have smaller margin to turn left or right,” says Goote.

The draft deal for Paris is running to over 80 pages of small print, and needs to be radically cut down for a deal to be manageable, and that’s where these ministerial meetings come into their own.

“In my experience most diplomatic meetings don’t bother about length of text. They talk about the big issues. That’s how it should be,” says Goote.

“If you have one controversial issue you can have 15 pages of options – but if you solve them on a political level you can do away with five pages.”

Ashton, now watching from afar rather than the coal face, says he wants to see the scars of fights emerge from the G7.

“It would tell you there is real effort going into it. I’d like to see more signs that people were really cutting to the chase.”

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