G7 leaders agree measures on climate and nature but is it enough?

David Attenborough tells summit world is within 10 years of dangerous tipping points

Paddleboarders and surfers help raise awareness for climate action in the sea at Gyllyngvase beach, Cornwall, at the weekend. Photograph: Jon Rowley/EPA

Paddleboarders and surfers help raise awareness for climate action in the sea at Gyllyngvase beach, Cornwall, at the weekend. Photograph: Jon Rowley/EPA

 

G7 countries have agreed a raft of measures to address the climate crisis and to protect nature – while finally making good on promises to deliver $100 billion a year to support developing countries.

The world’s richest countries are to develop a funding instrument for vital green infrastructure in climate-vulnerable states under a “build back better for the world” plan.

The new approach is intended to provide easier access to finance, while accelerating the global shift to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. It is being seen as an alternative to China’s “belt and road initiative”, its ambitious plan to use infrastructure finance to extend Chinese influence, especially in Asia and Africa.

G7 nations also committed to halving carbon emissions by 2030 relative to 2010 and to set out actions to accelerate reductions so net-zero is achieved “as soon as possible and by 2050 at the latest”.

This includes ending unabated coal use over the coming decade, halting almost all direct government support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas and phasing out petrol and diesel cars – though the EV timeline is unclear.

They have endorsed “a nature compact”, aimed at halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 – including supporting the global target to conserve or protect at least 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030.

Temperature target

Two elements stand out following weekend talks during which climate was arguably the least contentious issue. First is the unequivocal commitment “to keep the 1.5 degree global warming threshold within reach” – the more demanding temperature target of the Paris Agreement.

Second is the weight attached to halting and reversing biodiversity loss. It was on equal footing with the climate crisis. The consequences of that combination were outlined by environmentalist David Attenborough who told G7 leaders the world was within 10 years of reaching dangerous tipping points.

Commenting in advance, he said: “We are now on the verge of passing tipping points, boundaries that once passed will unleash irreversible and self-amplifying change. Then all the innovation wealth and political will in the world will not be enough to save our civilisations.”

Our natural world will change from being “our greatest ally to our biggest foe” and accelerate global warming.

Catastrophe

Much international effort is being made to scale up climate ambition, to bolster the Paris Agreement and to ensure the Cop26 UN summit next November sets a better course for the world. But Attenborough identified the critical point – we are fast running out of time to avoid catastrophe: “Staying below 1.5 degrees is the only chance we have of avoiding these tipping points and stabilising our world again.” That is why 1.5 degrees matters.

Lack of detail, where individual countries have yet to set out their climate spending, is the least welcome aspect of the outcome, given past failures. British prime minister Boris Johnson, however, set the right tone when he said richer nations must press on with efforts to help support the developing world.

“We, as the rich nations of the Earth, we need to build our credibility with those countries in asking them to make cuts in CO2 because this country which started the industrial revolution is responsible for a huge budget of carbon that is already in the atmosphere. We are now asking other countries to make a change.”

Poor delivery

This frankness, and what has been committed to by the G7, will reassure developing countries Cop26 can deliver for them after years of poor delivery on Paris pact commitments, while big carbon-emitting countries not around the table – notably China, Russia and India – will face heightened pressure to not only set more demanding targets but outline how they will be achieved, and when.

Will it all be enough to somehow avoid those tipping points? Given the post-Covid rebound in emissions, nothing to indicate global warming is slowing and the global north’s failure to deliver on commitments, the answer is probably not.

Yet there is sufficient momentum building to suggest the world is facing up to what the G7 communiqué referred to as “the unprecedented and interdependent crises of climate change and biodiversity loss pose an existential threat to people, prosperity, security and nature”. Through global action and concerted leadership, 2021 could be a turning point for our planet.

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