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Energy at the G7's Cornwall Summit

Ella Kokotsis, Director, Accountability, G7 Research Group
June 24, 2021

Cornwall Summit host, Prime Minister Boris Johnson identified early in the UK's 2021 G7 presidency that building back better from COVID-19 would require advancing a green energy transition that cuts greenhouse gas emissions and creates jobs on a collective path to net zero by 2050 at the latest. Advancing progress on mitigation, adaptation and finance in accordance with the Paris Agreement were thus key to the G7's energy policy direction in the lead-up to the Cornwall Summit on June 11–13.

Indications of how the G7's energy policy would evolve became evident during the meeting of the G7's climate and environment ministers on May 20–21. Their communiqué focused specifically on measures needed to cut emissions, enhance energy security, ensure sustainability and drive economic growth.

First, the ministers committed to enhancing cooperation through the development of policy frameworks that would enable international exchanges on best practices in energy efficiency, which they described as the "first fuel" for emissions reduction, energy security, economic growth, sustainable development, alleviating energy poverty and job creation. To this end, they welcomed the establishment of the Energy Efficiency Hub at the International Energy Agency as a new global forum for international cooperation. Doubling the efficiency by 2030 of four leading energy products of lighting, cooling, refrigeration and motor systems would be the focus of this initiative.

The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to supporting renewable energy technologies, integration, market design and innovation globally, while further pledging to support clean energy transitions throughout the developing world, particularly on islands and remote communities. They recognized energy storage as an enabling technology and an important tool to support the transformation to net zero, and committed to accelerate the commercialization and deployment of energy storage technologies globally.

The strongest language, however, came on coal, with the ministers committing to accelerate the transition away from coal capacity, with the goal of achieving "an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s." To this end, the ministers affirmed the importance of the G7 leading by example, through the Powering Past Coal Alliance, with the aim of convening by the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in  November "to lay the groundwork for further joint action by G7 members."

The ministers agreed that climate finance would be directed away from carbon intensive power generation and aligned with investments supporting the clean energy transition. Phasing out "new direct government support for carbon intensive international fossil fuel energy" was seen as key in maintaining a clear and consistent path that would keep 1.5°C within reach. To this end, the ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, established a target for doing so – by 2025 – and encouraged all countries to adopt this commitment.

The outcome of this ministerial thus established the set of expectations on global energy governance that would set the stage for when the leaders convened just three weeks later.

At Carbis Bay, the leaders placed climate change and biodiversity loss at the heart of their COVID-19 recovery plans. Of the 469 commitments generated in their Carbis Bay G7 Summit Communiqué, 55 had climate change as their focus with an additional 17 discrete commitments on energy, the bulk of which were linked directly to meeting their climate goals. The centrepiece of the climate plan was a collective commitment by all G7 members, for the first time, to hit carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest. Doing so would require enhanced progress on mitigation, adaptation and finance in accordance with the Paris Agreement that delivers a green transformation on a path to net zero no later than 2050.

The leaders stated that coal  power generation was the "single biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions." But to keep 1.5°C within reach, they acknowledged the global transition away from coal could only happen in the absence of investments in coal-fired generation. To this end, the leaders offered their strongest commitment to date on coal, promising to end "new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021." They once again reaffirmed their intent to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, calling on all countries to follow suit.

The launch of the G7's Industrial Decarbonisation Agenda, announced at Cornwall, would be critical in harnessing science, innovation, finance and policy design geared toward green products that enhance resource efficiency across various energy-intensive industries. The acceleration of progress across a number of technologies was called out in the communiqué, including battery storage, hydrogen production as well as carbon capture and storage.

Funding for these initiatives would be harnessed through the leaders' collective pledge to mobilize $100 billion per year from both public and private sources through to 2025. To this end, they emphasized the need to "green" the global financial system so that "financial decisions take climate considerations into account." Consistent and transparent climate-related financial information would require mandatory disclosures based on domestic regulatory frameworks that aligned with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures framework.

A week after the Cornwall Summit, as the focus shifts to COP26, the UK G7 presidency issued an eight-page statement that summarized the leaders' climate and energy commitments. It called on all countries to bring ambitious targets that align with net zero as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions to Glasgow. The statement outlined four distinct goals needed to drive the green energy transition: 1) secure global net zero by mid-century and keeping 1.5°C within reach; 2) protect communities and natural habitats; 3) mobilize climate finance; and 4) work together to deliver. Discrete individual G7 member targets and timetables were laid out for each goal, with emphasis on accelerated coal phase-out, curtailed deforestation, a faster switch to electric vehicles and increased investment in renewable energy.

The statement's conclusion offered a joint declaration by the UK and Italy's G20 presidency that collective action would be crucial in making 2021 "a turning point for our planet." Prime Minister Johnson has made it known that everyone must arrive in Glasgow having done their homework. He has said that "if all that emerges from COP26 is more hot air, then we have absolutely no chance of keeping our planet cool."

The next five months must therefore be spent productively, so that Glasgow remains an opportunity to hammer out the final details for what Prime Minister Johnson calls "an era-defining outcome for the planet and for future generations."

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