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Russia’s energy dependency lowers the bar on G-7 climate goals | International

The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, arriving at the press conference he gave this Tuesday in a meadow in front of the Elmau castle, in the Bavarian Alps.
The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, arriving at the press conference he gave this Tuesday in a meadow in front of the Elmau castle, in the Bavarian Alps.KERSTIN JOENSSON (AFP)

The scope of the turmoil unleashed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is almost limitless. In addition to the suffering caused to the Ukrainian society, from the global escalation of prices, food shortages and the increasingly acrimonious global geopolitical configuration, the impact on the fight against climate change must also be highlighted. The inclusion in the conclusions of the G-7 summit of an exception to the commitment to avoid public investment in the fossil fuel sector has highlighted this front and caused discomfort among those in favor of a determined acceleration of the ecological transition.

The decision, promoted by Germany and Italy – which suffer from a significant dependence on Russian gas – is a new blow that adds to the recent increase in the use of coal as an alternative source to alleviate supply problems linked to the Russian war. In both cases, the political leaders stress that these are circumstantial measures aimed at overcoming the emergency phase and that there is no reduction in the general ambition of the fight against climate change. But it is evident that coal is a very polluting source, and that the investments in the gas sector, once made, promote infrastructures that tend to consolidate its role in a way that goes beyond the situation.

“With a view to accelerating the exit from our dependence on Russian energy, we highlight the important role that increased LNG deliveries can play. [gas natural licuado, por sus siglas en inglés], and we recognize that investment in this sector is necessary as a response to the current crisis, ”says the statement. “In these exceptional circumstances, publicly supported investment in the gas sector may be appropriate as a temporary response, subject to clearly defined national circumstances, and if applied in a manner consistent with our climate goals,” he adds. The text indicates that these new infrastructures should be planned with their future reconversion in mind to work with green hydrogen.

“We all agree where the future lies, and it’s not with gas. This is especially true for Germany, where we have set out to be climate neutral by 2045. [cinco años antes del objetivo de la UE, que es 2050]”, assured the German chancellor, although he acknowledged that in the current situation “gas is needed”. Hence, he said, “some investments” make sense “in this transition phase.” Scholz walked through a meadow to the closing press conference of the summit, in which he had the green and mountainous landscape of Elmau castle in the background. The appointment has made several nods to sustainability, such as a catering with hardly any meat dishes and the omnipresent recycling, which contrasted with the transfers of the attendees from the press center, in Garmisch-Partenkichen, to Elmau, about 17 kilometers by road, in Army helicopters.

The Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, insisted on the transitoriness, and assured that the leaders of the G-7 have not taken a single step back in their environmental commitments and are not planning to do so despite the “emergency” that the energy crisis represents. He rejected criticism from climate advocacy organizations that especially accuse Germany and Italy of having watered down previous G7 efforts. “Although we open the door to new gas sources, what they do is replace the Russian ones; we are not increasing gas supply in the long term,” insisted Draghi. “I have also given my word,” he said about the commitments made.

Another disappointing result in terms of climate is that the prospect of setting quota targets for electric vehicles vanished, in this case under pressure from Japan, a major industrial power in the automotive sector. During the negotiations there was an attempt to set a target of 50% zero emission vehicles by 2030, but this was replaced by vague promises to move forward on that path.

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The conclusions of the summit once again disappointed those who have long been waiting for the G-7 to decide to set a date for coal exit. The two-thirds reduction in gas arrivals from Russia has forced countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Austria to resort to the most polluting energy source to produce electricity and store the gas that arrives for the winter. Once again, the declaration uses very generic language: “We commit to prioritize concrete and timely measures to accelerate the phase-out of domestic coal-fired power production.”

As a whole, the final document of the summit reaffirms other climate commitments made in the past, but it is devoid not only of new concrete measures —difficult to achieve in meetings of this type— but also of promising political rhetoric in the fight against pollution.

The signatories did, however, agree to promote one of the German chancellor’s big bets, the creation of an international “climate club” from which to accelerate the transition towards climate neutrality. Countries from all over the world are invited to join these efforts, which must be “tangible”, Scholz said. The forum will be formally established before the end of the year.

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