Leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest nations say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the strain it’s causing to the global energy market, is forcing them to walk back a recent promise to stop funding overseas fossil fuel projects. It’s the latest climate pledge to fall victim to the war, which has upended global geopolitics and threatens to derail an already fragile international effort to tackle the climate crisis.
In May, members of the Group of Seven—a coalition of the world’s largest developed economies, known as G7 for short—pledged to stop funding fossil fuel projects in other countries by the end of the year, saying such development was out of sync with the Paris Agreement. The group’s members consist of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
But at a G7 summit in Germany that began over the weekend, most of the coalition’s members supported nullifying that promise as they scramble to replace ubiquitous Russian fossil fuels amid sky-high energy costs and rising global inflation, according to several news reports. Germany, France and Italy all lobbied for the move during the event, which took place at a remote castle in the Bavarian Alps.
“In the present situation we’ll have short-term needs that will require large investments in gas infrastructure in developing countries and elsewhere,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said during the talks Sunday, adding that he believed “short-term needs” could be balanced with “long-term climate needs” by later replacing natural gas with carbon-free hydrogen gas.
If adopted by the group, the change would mark the latest climate pledge to be nixed by G7 members since Russia invaded Ukraine four months ago. Germany, for example, has already walked back its promise to stop burning coal for electricity. And several G7 nations, including the United States, are reportedly lobbying to postpone fulfilling a pledge to deliver $100 billion in annual aid to help developing countries mitigate the effects of global warming, including rising sea levels and more frequent and severe extreme weather and drought. Many of those developing nations have contributed very little to the climate crisis yet face the greatest harm because of it.
In many ways, the weekend meeting offered an early and ominous glimpse of the steep challenges countries will likely face in November as they meet in Egypt for the United Nations’ highly anticipated climate summit. Many climate activists now worry that as the U.S. and other wealthy Western nations ramp up domestic production of oil and gas to replace lost fuel supplies from Russia, it’s sending the global climate fight in the wrong direction and risks sabotaging the chances of meeting key targets set by the Paris Agreement.
Earlier this month, U.S. government scientists announced that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached a record-high of nearly 421 parts per million. Exports of liquified natural gas from the United States to Europe have nearly tripled since March, according to a joint statement released Monday by the White House and the European Commission. And a new study found that global methane emissions have climbed a “worrisome” amount this year, despite 110 countries vowing last November to cut their emissions of the potent greenhouse gas by 30 percent over the next eight years—marking yet another potentially broken promise.
On Sunday, the G7 coalition announced they were making $600 billion available to help developing nations fund their infrastructure projects, with at least half of that pool going toward efforts to transition countries away from coal, the most carbon-intensive and polluting fossil fuel. Many countries, however, are moving away from coal by switching to gas rather than more climate-friendly sources like solar and wind. And on Tuesday, G7 members also announced the formation of a new global “climate club,” which is aimed at speeding up efforts to tackle global warming, in part by making it more financially attractive for companies and governments to decarbonize their industries.
But climate activists criticized the announcement for being too “vague” and accused their governments of offering empty promises while pumping vast sums of money into fossil fuels.
As world leaders flit about in private helicopters over the weekend and enjoyed the quaint charms of their mountain retreat, including a wood-fueled fire at the Bavarian castle where they’ve held the conference since Saturday, a much different scene played out on the streets. On Saturday, thousands of protesters marched on Munich, demanding far more be done to protect the world’s most vulnerable communities and transition the global economy away from planet-warming fossil fuels.
“We have a war in Ukraine, a climate war, a fossil-fuelled war, which is happening because of the same reason of the climate crisis. And they’re just continuing to spend on it. And they’re just accelerating the destruction,” Ilyess El Kortbi, a Ukrainian climate activist told POLITICO as he joined the ongoing protests outside the summit Monday. “How are G7 leaders different from Putin if most of them think of profits?”
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