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23rd Mar 2019

G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuels by end of century

  • 'Binding is a very important term', said Merkel. (Photo: Bundesregierung/Gottschalk)

Leaders of the world’s top economies Monday (8 June) gave a boost to global talks on tackling climate change by saying the global economy should be decarbonised by the end of this century.

The high-level backing by G7 countries - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – increases the likelihood of almost 200 countries agreeing to a long-term goal when they meeting for climate talks in Paris in December.

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The conclusions after the meeting in Bavaria, southern Germany, said the Paris agreement should have “binding rules at its core to track progress towards achieving targets”.

They also call for a “legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” that would apply to all countries.

“Binding is a very important term”, said German chancellor Angela Merkel after the two-day meeting ended.

The G7 also endorsed for the first time a global target of a 40 to 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 2010 levels.

According to press agency Canadian Press, which quoted sources that have seen a draft text, Canada and Japan have been trying to water down the text, attempting to keep any binding targets out of the conclusions.

Merkel said the conclusions were “the result of very hard work”, but refused to single out which delegations were dragging their feet.

Both Merkel and the French president were praised for the outcome.

“To get the US, Canada and Japan to agree to this is a remarkable achievement by Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, and a good sign for the negotiations," said Michael Jacobs, advisor to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

The G7 also noted that the earth's average temperature must not be allowed to rise above 2 degrees Celsius, but this is a pledge that has been made before, including at international climate talks.

More importantly is the statement “that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century”.

It is the first time that G7 leaders speak of decarbonisation - reducing to zero the carbon emissions from fossil fuels - of the global economy.

That means that by the year 2100, there are roughly two outcomes for fossil fuels.

One is that energy production has shifted away from coal, oil, and gas – the three fossil fuels which according to the International Energy Agency, in 2012 accounted for about 81.7 percent of the world's energy.

The other is that fossil fuels are still used, but their emissions are captured before they would have been released into the air.

However, the technique of carbon capture and storage, is still at an experimental stage.

Within minutes of the publication of the conclusions on the G7 website, climate groups and business organisations sent out positive reactions.

Greenpeace activist Kelly Mitchell called the result a “powerful call to move the economy away from fossil fuels and towards an renewable energy future”.

Others noted that investors will feel more confident about putting money towards renewable energy.

“This long-term decarbonisation goal will make evident to corporations and financial markets that the most lucrative investments will stem from low-carbon technologies” said Jennifer Morgan, head of the Global Climate Programme at the think tank World Resources Institute.

“From an investment point of view, this announcement from the G7 today only serves to further highlights that fossil fuels now and in the future are a poor risk”, said Tim Buckley, director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Germany led EU's $5bn coal splurge

A larger portion of EU taxpayers' money than previously thought was used in recent years to help build coal-fired plants, the dirtiest energy source.

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