The Group of 7 started life as the G6 in 1975, and grew to the G8 in 1998 until 2014 when Russia was expelled after the annexation of Crimea. The 2016 G7 meeting in Tokyo begins today with a special focus on climate adaptation and the financing of emerging countries. With only 17 countries (of 197) having so far ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change accounting for just 0.04% of global emissions; it is more important than ever to ensure emerging countries have the ability and support required to meet the criteria of the Agreement.
This year’s meeting will look at four areas of climate change and the environment; biodiversity, marine litter, energy infrastructure in Africa and G7 progress on climate adaptation. The meeting has already been mired in controversy, with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States collectively supporting coal projects worth over USD$42 billion since 2007. Being the host, Japan has come under mounting criticism for its plans to build over 40 new coal based power plants despite decreases in domestic electricity demand.
The Ishe-Shima Progress Report released prior to the meeting acknowledges the urgent importance of action on climate change and recognises the risks posed to development efforts if climate change is not addressed. However, the environmental track record of the participating countries shows a severe lack of the required commitment. Combined emissions stood at over nine thousand MtCO2 in 2014 and the plans laid out in the Paris Agreement barely keep global temperatures below 3 degrees let alone the 1.5 degrees required to stave off massive environmental and humanitarian destruction.
The Paris Climate Change Agreement signed in 2015 laid out essential targets for the future sustainability of the planet. Without meeting these targets we run an almost 100% risk of devastating global catastrophes including the loss of large numbers of Pacific Islands and low-lying lands such as Bangladesh and the Mediterranean Coast, unprecedented super storms across South-East Asia and the Caribbean, extensive desertification and drought across Northern Africa, Europe and North America and a huge loss of biodiversity.
But what would happen in a world warmed by 3 degrees? Well here are several catastrophic changes that become high risk occurrences if temperatures are not kept below the 3-degree level:
- A significant portion of the Amazon Rainforest becomes savannah, killing millions of plants and animals and sending thousands of species careering towards extinction. The loss of trees also means the planets ability to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide is reduced by as much as 10%.
- Rainfall in Central America falls by 50% causing mass drought, desertification and famine.
- Central-South Western USA and a vast expanse of Africa centred on Botswana suffer severe desertification and the formation of sand dunes in once fertile plains.
- Annual hurricanes begin to exceed the maximum level 5 category currently assigned in extreme cases.
- Water flow in the Indus Valley reduces by 90%.
- The melting of Himalayan ice reduces the flow of five major river basins essential to global food supply (Indus, Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, Brahmaputra and Yellow).
- The Arctic Ocean becomes ice free during summer limiting the territory of thousands of Arctic animals including the Polar Bear.
- The majority of the worlds coral reefs will become extinct and suffer from severe bleaching removing a vital link in the oceanic food chain.
However, all is not bad news. The Report outlines small but significant steps made by the G7 countries towards protection of biodiversity and reduction of emissions. In 2011 Japan pledged USD$1.4 billion towards biodiversity protection with Germany contributing upwards of €500 million a year and a combined USD$11.5 billion has been pledged by the group to aid in climate change adaptation.
The UK is yet to ratify the Paris Agreement, however the G7 meeting will hopefully provide enough impetus for the government to accelerate proceedings. Available resources for renewables are abundant in the UK, with hundreds of miles of coastline perfect for off-shore wind farms and the harnessing of tidal energy and with advances in solar technology significant amounts of energy can be harvested even from the British weather. Unfortunately, over the past few years’ environmental sustainability and renewable energy has slipped down the government agenda. Renewable energy subsidies have been cut by more than 65% while there has been an increase in subsidies given to the oil industry, this very week land in Yorkshire has been opened up for fracking, a dangerous and environmentally hazardous practice. Air pollution in major cities has been worsening for years and plans are in motion to approve building on protected green belt land. The G7 is important because it will provide a platform for the UK to re-commit to the Paris Agreement and to lay out further plans for sustainable development, hopefully reversing some of these decisions or at least limiting their extent. Any promises made during these two days can be used to put pressure on politicians to act quickly and decisively.
In order to hold governments accountable for any commitments made during the meetings both domestic and international public pressure is crucial. Over the next few days as governments outline their contributions and reports from the meetings are released it will be important to watch what is happening carefully and ensure that tangible actions are taken from the G7 to ensure a safe, sustainable and carbon neutral future.