G7 summit: What to expect and what it means for COP26
By Gareth Redmond-King, COP26 Communications and Engagement Lead @gredmond76
Published:03 June 2021
Five years ago, in Leonardio DiCaprio’s climate change film, Before the Flood, Kiribati’s then President Anote Tong revealed his country had bought land in Fiji to enable ‘migration with dignity’ as rising sea levels begin to claim land and threaten water supplies of the island nation’s 119,000 people. “We have to accept the reality that we may not be able to accommodate all of our people”, he admitted.
This was echoed again in April this year when at President Biden’s climate summit Gaston Browne the Prime Minister of Caribbean island-state Antigua and Barbuda told the world: “We are literally teetering on the edge of despair”. The cost of damage wrought by climate change was unmanageable even before covid-19; now the debt crisis faced by small island states is thrown into even sharper relief.
1.5 to stay alive
The 44 members of the Association of Small Island States, Browne pointed out, contribute just 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And yet they are on the frontline of the climate crisis, and bear costs without the help they need from the world’s richest nations.
‘1.5 to stay alive’ was the demand, ahead of 2009’s Copenhagen climate summit; with 1.5°C eventually enshrined in the Paris Agreement six years later.
And $100bn for poorer nations to help pay for it
But Paris also re-affirmed a promise made in Copenhagen – that the richest nations would, between them, provide $100bn a year in financial support to developing countries by 2020. That was to pay for climate action to cut emissions, adaptation to climate impacts, and permanent loss and damage caused by those impacts.
It is now June 2021, and the richest countries are, by the best available count, $20bn short of keeping that promise. This was, of course, the backdrop to many of the contributions from developing countries at Biden’s summit in April.
In less than six months’ time, though, the UN meets in Glasgow at COP26. That meeting has unfinished business to attend to: the Paris accord rules; and gathering a full set of ambitious new emissions pledges from member nations enough to keep 1.5°C within reach. But as it stands, these crucial tasks risk being blown out of the water with that promise from rich nations as yet unfulfilled, and the associated trust needed for successful negotiations, absent.
Which is why this month’s G7 meetings – finance Ministers in London on 4th and 5th June, and G7 leaders in Cornwall on 11th-13th June – have observers holding their breath.
Firstly, the G7 are the wealthiest, developed nations – US, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, and Canada. They are best-placed to deliver on the $100bn pledge.
Progress on this pledge alongside debt relief and the role played by international organisations like the IMF in providing access to other forms of financial assistance will be critical. The G7 hold the keys to unlocking financial and debt support needed by poor and middle-income countries struggling with climate and covid impacts.
Secondly, both June’s G7 meetings, and November’s COP26 climate summit, are chaired by the UK. They therefore present the best opportunity for post-Brexit Britain – as an independent nation out with an influential regional bloc – to show that she’s still an influential, and relevant, actor on the international stage.
The UK’s climate commitments are leading-edge: first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions by mid-century, a bold Paris emissions pledge, and well ahead of the curve in kicking coal out of its energy mix. But in its own spotlight on the world stage now, it has perhaps found that a nation hosting COP cannot expect green-lighting a new coal mine to slip under the radar. It is also finding that other countries – and even the governing party’s own backbenchers and former Ministers – look askance at cuts to overseas development aid from a COP president calling on others to provide more finance for poorer nations.
So all eyes will be on the chairs of the G7 meetings – Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Their job will be to connect the outcome of these meetings to the ambition and momentum on climate action at COP26; the biggest global meeting the UK will have ever hosted.
To do that, they will be expected to land bold new commitments from their fellow leaders that can build both trust and resilience amongst the poorest nations; commitments that can prompt other wealthy nations to follow suit with their own finance and debt promises to developing countries. And to lead by example, they may need to step away from policy moves that have been variously called "worrisome" and "sub-optimal".
Once the leaders’ planes leave Cornwall, only a few weeks remain before all nations must submit their enhanced pledges in advance of the COP. Other developed countries may be slow to come forward if they perceive a lack of leadership from the G7. And developing countries – including big emitters like India and Brazil – will surely be reluctant to commit without progress on the promised $100bn.
It’s a lot to play for. But if Johnson and Sunak can deliver what’s needed at the G7, then it bodes well - not only for delivering an outcome at Glasgow that keeps 1.5 alive – but for the perceived credibility and competence of an independent, post-Brexit Britain-in-the-World.