June 8, 2015

G7 Strengthens the Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment and Keeping Carbon in the Ground

KRUEN, Germany — G7 leaders released a climate communique today that lacks in crucial details, but the broad strokes of which will help strengthen the case for fossil fuel divestment and keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground.

“The G7 is sending a signal that the world must move away from fossil fuels, and investors should take notice,” said 350.org executive director May Boeve. “If you’re still holding onto fossil fuel stocks, you’re betting on the past. As today’s announcement makes clear, the future belongs to renewables.”

The agreement affirms the need to decarbonize the global economy over the course of the century, decarbonizing the G7’s own energy sectors by 2050. Decarbonization should proceed at a faster pace, but even the current targets will require a massive shift of investments away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. The 2050 target also acknowledges the importance of rich countries leading this transition while providing the resources necessary for developing countries to leapfrog dirty energy sources. As resources flow in the right direction, and the price of renewables continues to drop, the world must get off fossil fuels completely as soon as possible.

Even the current 35-year time horizon for G7 decarbonization is less than the lifespan of most fossil fuel infrastructure, particularly new coal-fired power plants or major pipelines such as Keystone XL. The commitment should serve as a dire warning for investors considering new dirty projects, like the Galilee Basin coal mines in Australia, or investors who continue to hold shares in companies such as Exxon and Chevron, who refuse to acknowledge their climate risk and continue to spend massively on high carbon projects.

“If  President Obama wants to live up to the rhetoric we’re seeing out of Germany, he’ll need to start doing everything in his power to keep fossil fuels in the ground. He can begin by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and ending coal, oil and gas development on public lands. Building new fossil fuel infrastructure is completely at odds with the decarbonization goals set at this G7 meeting,” continued Boeve.

The G7 leaders also reaffirmed the need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, speaking of the need to meet the upper end of IPCC recommended emissions reductions scenarios in order to keep global warming below 2°C. More ambition is needed, but even these targets should send shivers down the spines of major fossil fuel companies. Scientists are clear that meeting the 2°C target will require leaving at least 80% of known fossil fuel reserves underground. Any new investments in extracting or finding new reserves will only further inflate a carbon bubble that is bound to burst.

G7 leaders also reiterated the need to phase out the fossil fuel subsidies, a push that will only gain momentum between now and the G20 summit in Turkey this November. The leaders also spoke of the need to support for adaptation efforts, provide insurance for hundreds of millions of people facing climate impacts, and secure climate finance for the post-2020 period–but the statement still lacked crucial details, and the necessary ambition, in each of these areas.

Across the board, today’s broad brush strokes will all require a greater level of detail going forward. Despite the strong signals, the G7 countries real world commitments still leave much to be desired. They’ve set a destination, but still need to show a roadmap of how to get there. The G7’s short term plans are not in line with their long term goals: their efforts must be scaled up to meet the ambition that science and justice demand. As always, numbers speak louder than words, and the numbers must be increased in terms of finance and emissions reductions.

There is much more work left to be done, but today’s announcement helps set up Paris as a referendum on the future of the fossil fuel industry. The millions of people marching in cities around the world, and the hundreds of institutions who have committed to fossil fuel divestment, have made their decision. Politicians will have to do a great deal between now and Paris to catch up.