FALMOUTH, England – At a world summit to showcase their efforts to save the climate, the leaders of the world’s richest and most advanced countries got stuck on the rock that fueled the 19th century.
Days of negotiations at the G7 leaders’ summit in Cornwall failed to set a deadline for coal after the United States and Japan blocked a deal.
The meeting was touted as a time for the group to set a benchmark for other countries to tackle emissions and phase out fossil fuels ahead of the UN’s COP26 climate talks in November.
“We have been clear this weekend that the action has to start with us,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters immediately after the meeting ended on Sunday.
But the Biden administration – obsessed with cultivating the slim Democratic majority in the Senate and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s sympathies for coal mining – was wary of any language specifically suppressing coal.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “We have sought language that aligns with the president’s national commitments, including a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 . We got that language. “
The 25-page final declaration pledged to “a massively carbon-free power system in the 2030s” and to “accelerate the transition away from uninterrupted coal capacity”, that is, coal without capture technology. carbon.
The “overwhelming majority” of G7 members supported phase-out in the 2030s, an EU official said. But Japan, which since the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 considers coal essential to its energy security, has also opposed it, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
“No specific date could be named, it was not our fault,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in response to a question from POLITICO. Among the G7 countries that have set a coal phase-out date, Germany is the latest at 2038. “We are setting a good example,” Merkel said. “Others have yet to verify their plans so far.”
The leaders agreed to stop funding coal plants and mines beyond their borders by the end of this year. It was intended to send a message to China, by far the world’s largest donor. But it’s unclear whether Japan – the third largest financier – will follow with a change in policy.
A government official could not say whether Tokyo would change its current policy of financing coal only in countries where it considers that there is no viable alternative fuel. “I have questions and no answers,” said a Japanese official. “Something should be announced by the end of the year. What that would look like remains to be determined. “
The British hosts have also pushed for the G7 to pledge to stop producing diesel and gasoline cars by 2035. That firm date has also been canceled.
These results infuriated activists.
Extinction Rebellion Protesters parked a van across the road from the seaside village where the leaders met. “All we got were empty words,” said a spokesperson for the group. “We are no better placed than before the G7.
In a first for the G7, leaders set the global goals they say will ensure a safe climate: limit warming to 1.5 degrees and achieve net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
Achieving these targets means that global coal use is expected to be cut by more than half this decade, recently said the International Energy Agency, a global authority on energy modeling. But in many developing countries, coal consumption continues to increase; China has said it will not start cutting coal consumption until 2026 at the earliest.
The US, EU and others have pressured Beijing to maximize its use sooner, but their case is being compromised by their own disunity.
Broadcaster David Attenborough reminded leaders of their responsibility and the timetable for action, who, in a video address, called the decisions that need to be taken this decade, especially by advanced economies, “the most important in the world. history of humanity ”.
The resistance of the United States to establishing a timetable for coal highlights the political danger to the leaders of major coal industries.
Climate policy requires the most carbon-intensive primary form of energy production to be drastically reduced in the words of many current governments. It means difficult political conversations with coal workers employed in a sector that has no recognizable future.
For Manchin and the West Virginia coal miners, the ground beneath the feet of Cornish rulers is a stark warning of the brutal consequences of an industrial transition. The luxury hotel where they met in Carbis Bay sits above a network of disused Victorian-era tin mines. After the industry collapsed in the 1870s, depopulation and deindustrialization followed. A century and a half later, Cornwall still lags much of the UK
But, just down the street in Falmouth, the Clean Energy Revolution offers hope for a reversal. Dairy farmer Clare Parnell was distributing Cornish pâtés – a local specialty similar to empanadas – to the international press. She said the proposed wind and geothermal energy projects offer new jobs and the electric vehicle revolution opens the prospect of a return to mining to extract copper and lithium.
“We are really going backwards, because mining and engineering are part of Cornwall’s philosophy,” said Parnell, board member of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.
Aware of the potential political and social consequences of a poorly managed coal transition, Canada, Germany, the UK and the US have launched a $ 2 billion fund to support new industries and retrain workers in developing countries.
They also announced a geopolitical project – Build Back Better World – to compete with China’s Belt and Road global infrastructure investment plan, although it was not immediately clear that there was new money in the works to match China’s hundreds of billions.
“Faced with the perfect storm of planetary crises – climate, COVID, injustice and collapsing ecosystems – the world’s richest democracies have responded with a plan to develop a plan,” said Laurence Tubiana, former French diplomat and one of the main editors. of the Paris Climate Agreement, now CEO of the European Climate Foundation.
But with G7 governments focusing on their economic recovery, even long-standing financial commitments are being missed. The rich world pledged $ 100 billion in annual funding by 2020 to the poorest countries to tackle climate change, but before the summit around $ 20 billion was still missing.
Only Germany and Canada made new promises. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has doubled Canada’s finances to about $ 1 billion every year. A government spokesperson said Germany would increase funding from € 4 billion to € 6 billion.
The German spokesperson added that the success of the COP26 talks “crucially depends on the climate finance commitments of industrialized countries. The G7 should lead the way in this regard.
“It’s still a lot of money to be raised,” Johnson said.
But with an eye on his attempt to convince developing countries to step up their climate goals before he is host to COP26 again, he said: “It’s very important that we do this. Why should anyone in the developing world believe that they need to make changes to their technology to reduce CO2 emissions… We have to make that commitment and it makes sense.
Anita Kumar, Jakob Hanke Vela, Anna Isaac and David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.