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With less than five months to go until a key international climate change conference, leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations pledged Sunday to stop financing new coal plants beyond their borders by the end of this year.

“G7 countries account for 20% of global carbon emissions and we were clear this weekend that action has to start with us,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the end of the summit in Cornwall, England, on Sunday.

But with a loophole allowing for investment in coal plants that utilize controversial carbon capture and storage technology — yet to be proven economically or environmentally viable on a large scale — and no deadline set for G7 members to phase out at coal at home, questions remain as to how effective it will be in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

In their final communique, G7 leaders said continued global investment in unabated coal power generation, which does not use carbon filtering technologies, is incompatible with keeping the 2015 Paris Agreement within reach. They also called for new direct government support for ending unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of this year.

The G7 leaders also agreed to almost halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 relative to 2010 and jointly mobilize $100 billion (¥10.97 trillion) through 2025 to help combat climate change.

Environment group the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed the declarations on climate change finance and the coal phase out pledge as important political signals to the rest of the world before COP26, a United Nations climate change meeting slated to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. But it also said that more action is needed to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement — limiting the rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to 1.5 C.

“The announcement on coal is the scale of action we need to see from world leaders,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF’s global leader on climate and energy. “But in the glaring reality of unrelenting climate impacts, affecting mainly the most vulnerable countries and communities, we must be talking about ending exploration and mining of all fossil fuels as well as all fossil fuels subsidies, setting out a bolder date to do so.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stands with other Group of Seven leaders in Cornwall, England, on Sunday. | POOL / VIA KYODO
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stands with other Group of Seven leaders in Cornwall, England, on Sunday. | POOL / VIA KYODO

With the end of the G7 summit, political momentum for action on climate change is expected to build up toward COP26, which is widely seen as the most important climate summit since the one that sealed the Paris Agreement. Nations are expected to deliver updated pledges on their carbon emissions reduction targets, with the aim of reaching a global peak in emissions as soon as possible and realizing a carbon-neutral world by midcentury.

In order to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, no new coal mines should be exploited or developed, while no new fossil-fuel based power plants should be built, according to a report issued last month by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Looking at Japan, it is unclear how the G7 decision on coal plants will impact Japan’s plan to finance coal power projects in Asian countries in the near term.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Sunday that Japan will stop making new investments in unabated coal plants overseas.

At present, Japan has plans to help fund a new Indonesian coal plant despite Jakarta’s plans to stop building new coal-fired plants from 2023, as part of an effort to meet its domestic carbon neutrality goals. A second project calls for Japanese government financing of a coal plant in Bangladesh, despite a decision by the Bangladeshi government in February to drop plans for nine new coal plants because of the rising cost of imported coal.

Domestically, Japan was forced to restart many coal-fired plants after the March 2011 triple meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. In 2019, coal accounted for about 27% of Japan’s total primary energy supply, according to the IEA.

“Japan’s addiction to fossil fuels is undermining critical action to address the climate crisis,” said Susanne Wong, senior campaigner for environment group Oil Change International. “We need Prime Minister Suga to demonstrate climate leadership and support strong action to address the biggest crisis facing humanity and our planet.”

Japanese climate activists also criticized the government’s stance and called on Suga to be more ambitious in ditching coal.

“Japan continues to strongly oppose (the total abolition of coal), due to domestic energy circumstances,” Mie Asaoka, president of Kiko Network, said in a statement Monday. “The only way for developed countries to meet the 1.5-degree target is to abolish coal-fired power by 2030. The Japanese government needs to set a policy of total abolition of coal-fired power by then.”

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