The G7 group of big, wealthy countries has failed to agree a date by which they will stop making electricity with coal.
At the G7 environment ministers meeting in the Japanese city of Sapporo, the United Kingdom and Canada wanted to “set a 2030 date for completing the goal of an accelerated phase out of domestic unabated coal power generation”.
France accepted this but they were opposed by Japan, the United States and the European Union, according to an annotated draft seen by Climate Home.
In the final 36-page communique, environment ministers said they would prioritise “concrete and timely steps towards the goal of accelerating the phase-out of domestic unabated coal power generation”. But they stopped short of setting a specific deadline.
At the end of the summit, Canada’s environment minister Steven Guilbeault said that “phasing out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 has never been more urgent”.
— Steven Guilbeault (@s_guilbeault) April 16, 2023
E3G analyst Alden Meyer criticised the hold-outs. He said: “Everytime they [G7 countries] allow carveouts, they give other countries excuses to say, ‘Well you talk a big game, but you’re not delivering at home’”.
Brussels & Washington divided
Luca Bergamaschi, co-founder of the think-tank Ecco, told Climate Home News internal politics in the US and the EU make it difficult to accept a 2030 deadline at G7 level.
“For the EU such [a] deadline is not yet mature enough given the ongoing discussions with Eastern European countries,” he added.
The European Union has to agree on its stance internally. EU member state Poland currently plans to phase out coal by 2049.
But Bergamaschi welcomed the inclusion in the communique of a reference to phasing-out domestic coal power in line “with keeping a limit of 1.5°C temperature rise within reach”.
He said G7 countries would need to respect a 2030 deadline to hit this target, even if it is not stated explicitly.
Meyer said that a 2030 coal-phase out date would be used by Republicans to attack Democratic politicians running for relection to Congress next year. “I imagine that could have been a factor in the US decision not to support such a goal,” he said.
He added: “For the US, while it is quite possible that we could see all coal generation phased out by 2030, there is nothing in current federal law requiring such an outcome; the Inflation Reduction Act uses carrots, not sticks, to accelerate the clean energy transition.”
Japan, the G7 presidency holder, relies on coal for almost a third of its electricity generation.
The country had previously signalled its intention to only phase-out “inefficient coal-fired power plants towards 2030”, but it has not set a specific timeline.
Kimiko Hirata, executive director of the Climate Integrate NGO said Japan strongly objected to ending coal and the full decarbonisation of the power sector by 2035.
“Japan pushed its own domestic agenda driven by industry interests rather than to set a positive political signal to tackle the climate crisis,” she added.
Ecco's Bergamaschi sees the meeting of G7 prime ministers and presidents in May as a pivotal moment. "Leaders should demand from Japan a clear and ambitious timeline [on coal phase-out] to protect Western nations' credibility on climate commitments".
Among the G7, only Japan and the United States are not members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which aims to accelerate coal power phase-out.
No new coal
The ministers said they "recognized the need" to end the construction of new coal-fired power plants, unless they have carbon capture facilities and called on other countries to stop building these power plants.
The International Energy Agency has said that this is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5C.
According to Global Energy Monitor, the G7 accounts for 15% of the world's coal power plant capacity. But the only G7 country planning to build new coal-fired power plants is Japan, which has three being built and one in the pre-construction stage.
China has over 300 coal power plants planned and now accounts for nearly three-quarters of the world's planned coal capacity.
This article was updated on 18 April to include Alden Meyer's comments on the US's position