“Tackling climate change is now as much a political and communications challenge as it is a scientific or technological one. We have the skills to address it in time, all we need is the global will to do so.”
These were the words of Sir David Attenborough speaking earlier in June. On this occasion the world-famous environmentalist and documentarian was not speaking to TV audiences. He was addressing the G7, in other words, the heads of state for some of the planet’s most powerful economies.
With Covid-19 and the growing climate crisis, this year’s meeting in Cornwall in the UK was like no other for the leaders of UK, USA, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and the EU, which make up the group.
When it came to climate change, a number of key pledges showed signs of growing desire to follow Attenborough’s heartfelt call for collective action.
The G7 group promised to phase out coal plants, unless they have technology to capture carbon emissions. To reach this goal, the leaders agreed to stop funding of new coal assets in developing countries and pledged to deliver up to $2.8 billion to help countries shift from reliance on the fossil fuel. While some criticised the failure to set a deadline for a complete phaseout, the continued drive to end use of the world’s dirtiest major fuel should not be underestimated.
Biodiversity was another area subject to bold commitments, with the G7 leaders agreeing to protect 30% of the world’s land and marine areas for nature conservation by the end of the decade.
And while they were not centre stage, ambitious technological solutions were also discussed. One proposal had governments agree to aim for the majority of all new passenger car sales to be electric by 2030 or sooner.
Further welcome news came in the form of President Joe Biden’s announcement that “America is back at the table” and ready and willing to push for change.
Perhaps the area that drew most attention was the role G7 countries must play in supporting developing countries to tackle the impacts of climate change. There is no doubt that the G7 nations, which have benefited hugely from industrialisation, will be crucial to coordinating global efforts in responding to climate change.
This year’s summit saw leaders promise “to jointly mobilize $100 billion per year from public and private sources, through to 2025” for developing countries. Some climate groups and NGOs demanded more. “G-7 leaders have just a few hours left to significantly increase the climate finance that is long overdue. They speak of largesse but their checkbooks have so far remained tightly closed,” said Oxfam’s climate change lead Nafkote Dabi.
Teresa Anderson, climate policy coordinator at ActionAid International, argued that “the G7’s reaffirmation of the previous $100 billion a year target doesn’t come close to addressing the urgency and scale of the crisis.”
Both Anderson and Dabi have a point. There is a strong argument that the G7 could have done more when it comes to green financing. The figure of $100 billion was originally set at a G7 meeting in 2009. This year’s announcement is therefore a promise meet an overdue pledge.
However, there is hope that this time the plan will become a reality, with multiple countries setting out clear rises in green financing. Canada said it would double its pledge to $5.7 billion over the next five years, while Germany said it would increase its own by 2 billion to a total of 6 billion euros a year by 2025 at the latest.
Still, experts and activists are within their right to push leaders for further action. If, as David Attenborough says so convincingly, climate change is a “communications challenge”, these voices are key to shifting the narrative and encouraging important developments. We’ve already seen a landslide shift in perception in the private sector in recent years led by Larry Fink at Blackrock, where environmental risks are now important concerns for investors. It’s hard to separate this growing awareness of the threat of climate change from the wave of international climate demonstrations which took place in 2019 and 2020.
This is not to say we have to agree with all the concerns held by climate activists. But what it does show is a growing momentum on all levels of society to enact change. G7 has been an important step on that path, which looks set to climax with the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26. It feels to me as though 2021 could be the year where the global will to act on climate change finally becomes realised.