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Wobbly G7 moves to isolate China & emerging nations on coal


The G7’s anti-coal statement was undermined by the reluctance of some member countries to dump the polluting fuel.

The G7 is throwing down a challenge to China and other middle and emerging economies: Follow our lead and stamp down hard and fast on coal power.

Environment and climate ministers from the club of the richest democracies on Friday wrapped up a two-day virtual meeting with a pledge to halt new international financing for coal mines and power plants this year. The goal, they said, is to achieve “an overwhelmingly decarbonized power system in the 2030s.”

But that determination was undermined by a mixed message from the group itself, with uncertainty over whether Japan has agreed to end foreign coal financing, and Japan and Germany balking at agreeing to end domestic coal-fired power by 2030.

That muddies the goal of the statement, which is supposed to send a signal to other countries on emissions cuts. “We, as industrialized countries, could not in good faith expect others to join us along this path,” without taking the same steps, said German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze.

The generally strong words mark a departure from the tepid G7 climate directives of the past four years, when the Trump administration stood in the way of more ambitious statements. All G7 members have now set a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal for 2050 at the latest and stepped up their targets for 2030 — the aim is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, rather than the Paris Agreement’s 2-degree target.

The ramped-up rhetoric is supposed to increase pressure on coal-reliant economies such as India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa — who were guests at this week’s G7 but did not sign up to any of the pledges — and the G20 countries, who account for more than four-fifths of greenhouse gas emissions. Leaders from those countries are set to meet in late October, ahead of the U.N. COP26 climate talks.

“We do call on all G20 countries now and all other major economies to join with us. This is not just a one-off event, we hope,” said U.S. climate envoy John Kerry. […]

The deal on international finance for coal was intended to leave China isolated, but a Japanese official wasn’t willing to confirm that Tokyo interpreted the statement as a complete ban. Throughout the meeting, Japan stood alone against the G7 effort to curtail its exports of coal money and technology — it’s the world’s third-largest coal financier.

If Japan demurs, it would dilute the message to Beijing — by far the world’s largest backer of coal power stations and mines, including on the EU’s doorstep in Serbia. It spent an average of $3.7 billion a year on foreign coal projects over last decade, although that dropped to $474 million in 2020….

Tokyo also blocked a U.K.-led push for the ministers to agree to stop burning coal for power by 2030 — a target that Japan, Germany and the United States have not set. A German official said it would be difficult for the government to “predict when exactly conditions will be met” for a coal phaseout, although there is pressure to end earlier than the official target of 2038.

In a press conference on Friday, Japan’s Economy Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said his country’s island geography made it harder to ensure a stable power supply, but that abandoning coal was under consideration.

“We must also consider whether Japanese industry can survive” the push for net-zero carbon emissions, Kajiyama said.

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