Climate and Nature

G7 summit: 3 key takeaways for net zero action, nature and the circular economy

The G7 summit in Japan was an opportunity to take practical action to combat the climate crisis.

The G7 summit in Japan was an opportunity to take practical action to combat the climate crisis. Image: Copyright © Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

Abdellah Hmamouche
Lead, Government Engagement, Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum
Jay Hawkins
Communications Lead, Climate and First Movers Coalition, World Economic Forum
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • The Group of Seven heads of state met for a summit in Hiroshima, Japan from 19-21 May 2023.
  • The meeting had potentially far-reaching implications that could help accelerate action to decarbonise global economies, protect nature and biodiversity, and enhance circularity.
  • The three key takeaways focused on the phasing out of fossil fuels, boosting renewable energy production and ending plastic pollution.

The Group of Seven (G7) summit was the first in a series of important multilateral milestones in the diplomatic calendar for 2023. Bringing together the heads of state of the US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and the European Union, the G7 precedes and largely sets the tone for the subsequent Group of 20 (G20) meeting and other key climate-focused diplomatic engagements later in the year, such as COP28. The meeting, therefore, represents a key fixture for efforts to tackle the climate crisis, defining priorities and action points for the year ahead.

This year’s G7 meeting contained some significant outcomes concerning the climate crisis. These have potentially far-reaching implications that could help accelerate action to decarbonise global economies and limit heating to 1.5°C – as per the Paris Agreement. The G7 leaders also agreed on targeted action to protect nature and biodiversity and enhance circularity to minimise human impact on our planet.

The majority (70%) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from materials handling and use. Eliminating waste and pollution will be a key priority for governments and businesses alike, circulating products and materials and regenerating nature to reduce emissions and meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

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What was agreed at the G7?

1. More certainty on the phasing-out of fossil fuels

The G7 leaders said: “We underline our commitment, in the context of a global effort, to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest, in line with the trajectories required to limit global average temperatures to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels and call on others to join us in taking the same action."

This is the strongest language yet seen by world leaders on the phasing out of fossil fuels. COP27 was widely criticised for lacking ambition on the phase-out of fossil fuels. Negotiators were only able to agree to “[accelerate] efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”

The G7 communiqué, therefore, represents a significant increase in ambition for the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines unabated fossil fuels as those “produced and used without interventions that substantially reduce the amount of GHG emitted throughout the life-cycle; for example, capturing 90% or more from power plants, or 50-80% of fugitive methane emissions from energy supply.” So, this latest G7 wording effectively rules out any power generation that is not using carbon capture technology to eradicate the vast majority of the emissions produced during the generation process.

There is some criticism, however, that the G7 did not go far enough on the phase-out of fossil fuels. The communiqué makes reference to the global impact of Russia’s war on energy supplies and the continued role that leaders see for liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the G7 aims to reduce dependency on Russian gas supplies. Contrary to hopes and expectations from climate-advocacy groups, G7 leaders noted that investments in LNG “can be appropriate in response to the current crisis and to address potential gas market shortfalls provoked by the crisis.” Leaders also failed to commit to a “fully” decarbonised power sector by 2035, contrary to expectations, opting to maintain the commitment articulated in 2022 to achieve a “fully or predominantly” decarbonised power sector by 2035.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the G7 accounts for 40% of the global economy, 36% of global power generation capacity, 30% of global energy demand and 25% of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. These commitments, therefore, while falling short of some expectations, still represent a significant step up in global ambition to phase out fossil fuels – particularly if they can act as an accelerant for the rest of the world.

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2. More commitment to renewable energy

What the G7 leaders said: “We also need to significantly accelerate the deployment of renewable energies and the development and deployment of next-generation technologies. The G7 contributes to expanding renewable energy globally and bringing down costs by strengthening capacity, including through a collective increase in offshore wind capacity of 150GW by 2030, based on each country’s existing targets and a collective increase of solar PV to more than 1TW by 2030."

This commitment represents a big step up and will bring the G7 into line with analysis conducted by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), whose World Energy Transition Outlook 2023 found that existing renewable power deployment rates globally are insufficient to keep 1.5°C within reach. G7 leaders made reference to this analysis and underlined their commitment to accelerate renewable energy production in line with IRENA’s pathway to limit warming to 1.5°C.

This enhanced commitment to renewable energy also extends beyond solar and wind power. The G7’s climate, energy and environment ministers, who met one month prior to the G7 leaders, agreed to accelerate the deployment of “hydropower, geothermal, sustainable biomass, biomethane and tidal using modern technologies.”

They also committed to accelerating the development and deployment of other innovative technologies for energy production, such as wave energy and floating offshore wind power, as well as overall grid flexibility and reliability through cutting-edge energy storage techniques for weather-dependent renewable energy production. A variety of energy storage techniques being trialled around the world can store energy at the point of production when weather conditions, such as increased wind and sun, lead to higher production rates. They then release the energy to the grid when needed – for example in the mornings and evenings when electricity consumption generally peaks.

Along with these commitments to renewable energy production, G7 leaders also made clear their commitment to improving supply chains for critical minerals and materials. The demand for rare earth elements is expected to grow by 400-600% over the next few decades to supply technologies that will be critical to a net-zero economy, such as batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. As part of our move towards “net-zero, circular, climate-resilient, pollution-free and nature-positive economies,” G7 leaders highlighted the role that resource efficiency and circularity along supply chains can play in guaranteeing supply and they committed to “increase domestic and international environmentally-sound, sustainable and efficient recovery and recycling of critical minerals and raw materials.”

3. Ending plastic pollution

Beyond the potential hazards posed to the marine and terrestrial environment, as well as to humans, plastics are also a substantial contributor to global GHG emissions. In 2019, plastics generated 1.8 billion tonnes of GHG emissions – 3.4% of global emissions – with 90% of these emissions coming from their production and conversion from fossil fuels. Furthest estimates indicate that GHG emissions from plastics could reach about 13% of the entire remaining carbon budget by 2050.

Germany, France, Canada, Britain and the European Union are already part of a multi-national coalition that made the same pledge last year, but this is the first time the remaining Group of Seven members — Japan, the United States and Italy — have made the 2040 commitment.

G7 ministers highlighted that they “are committed to ending plastic pollution, with the ambition to reduce additional plastic pollution to zero by 2040." This did not come without concern from some organizations, highlighting the specific reference to only “reducing additional plastic pollution.”

The phase-out will be achieved by "promoting sustainable consumption and production of plastics, increasing their circularity in the economy, and environmentally sound management of waste," the statement said. These actions include: “addressing single-use plastics, non-recyclable plastics, as well as plastics with harmful additives, through measures such as phasing out when possible and reducing their production and consumption; applying tools to internalise attributable costs of plastic pollution; and addressing the sources, pathways and impacts of microplastics.” In so doing, the G7 aims “to robustly engage with and involve partners and stakeholders.” Meanwhile, plastic waste has doubled globally in 20 years and only 9% is successfully recycled. And, the United Nations says the volume of plastic entering the oceans will nearly triple by 2040.

A year ago in Nairobi, 175 countries convened to put an end to plastic pollution worldwide by developing a legally-binding United Nations treaty by the end of 2024. The next session to negotiate the treaty is scheduled for this May in Paris.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is the World Economic Forum’s platform for translating plastic pollution commitments into concrete action. GPAP harnesses its convening power to bring together stakeholders from governments, businesses and civil society to drive the transition to a circular plastics economy on a global, regional and national level.

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