The G7 members were hosted in Germany this year and made some bold pronouncements relative to the future of energy and the climate system. I am manifestly not a cynic on the progress the world has been making on climate and energy over the past decade or so. That is certainly the premise of my book and this blog: that there are scores of important breakthroughs and initiatives being made every year, most everywhere. I have, however, taken a cautious approach to the importance of the global approach to mitigating greenhouse gases. A consensus has been building and continues to build about the need for action. There is absolutely no doubt about that. But the speed and depth of commitment from some of the leading actors remains in question.
The Japanese, for instance, the owners of the third largest economy in the world, made all the right moves after the Fukushima disaster and accelerated renewables but now seem to be throttling back. The United States, having made tremendous progress in recent years, continues to have this immensely stupid and counterproductive national energy policy: All of the Above. New nuclear power is a financial boondoggle of the highest order. Clean coal practically defines the term oxymoron. Instead of allowing oil drilling in sensitive offshore areas, the Obama Administration should be further tightening the CAFE standards to drive us along the path faster to a virtually oil-free transportation sector. The Brits and the French persist in their nuclear delusion. I was in Germany at the end of May leading a class studying clean tech there, and I am a huge believer in the commitment and the focus of the Germans in bringing their Energiewende into full flower, but there is even some danger of backsliding there, primarily in giving the big utilities more sway which may imperil the democratization of the renewables sector, one of the key factors in the overwhelming German public support for the transition.
All that being said, the news out of Germany last week from the G7 meetings was mostly positive. The headline, of course, was a statement about phasing out fossil fuels by the end of the century. What that means is that they intend to lead the decarbonization of the global energy economy. (Some wonderful, similar noises were made by various parties at the UN last fall.) The declaration from the leaders included this statement: “We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavor. To this end we also commit to develop long term national low-carbon strategies.”
The astute Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations, however, calls this part of the communique the “least consequential” of the commitments. He points out that you only have to go back to the months before the Copenhagen Accords in 2009 to hear this sort of rhetoric. (Some called it “Nopenhagen.” It wasn’t but it could’ve done more.) To me, the big buildup to Paris in December needs to be backed up by action. And money. Access to insurance for vulnerable populations is one place that Levi notes is a tangible, useful commitment from the G7.
But we have also heard since Copenhagen that $100 billion a year will be mobilized globally for developing nations for transitioning to renewables and other clean tech, as well as for adaptation. Angela Merkel highlights that in her remarks. (See the video below.) We’ve got a long way to go, but I do not doubt the ability of the world to get there. I just want the progress I’ve been seeing for ten years or so to accelerate. Fine words are fine, of course, but it’s these leaders’ jobs and it’s ours to make it happen.