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Beyond the handshakes and photo ops that typically mark a G7 meeting, over the weekend, the Group of Seven signalled priorities for climate diplomacy this year that show the global energy transition is underway.

Across a 36-page document, the G7 — which includes the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, Italy and the European Union — agreed on 92 environment- and energy-related topics. These range from the need to scale up finance for developing countries to deal with damages caused by climate change to phasing out unabated fossil fuels to setting new goals for scaling up clean energy like wind and solar.

“The G7 is the first big international opportunity for Canada to set the tone in 2023 for an ambitious agenda on fighting climate change, protecting nature, and cutting pollution,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a statement. “This meeting has set us up well for making greater international gains in the year ahead.”

G7 meetings typically focus on the G7 countries, but this year’s meeting, held in Sapporo, Japan, had India, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates attending as guests, revealing how critical those countries are to climate diplomacy.

The UAE is hosting the annual United Nations climate conference, COP28, in Dubai this year, Indonesia is the president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and India is the G20 president this year. From Canada’s point of view, building relationships with the UAE and India will be especially critical to advancing Canada’s position in international negotiations this year.

It’s a bit like an onion. The set of shared positions that G7 energy and environment ministers agreed to this past weekend paves the way for the leaders of G7 countries to agree to something similar when they meet next month. After that, there will be a G20 summit in September where the G7 countries will attempt to have their position adopted by the G20.

The G20 represents the largest economies on the planet. If that group can agree to phasing out all unabated fossil fuels or setting ambitious clean energy targets, it is more likely those positions will be reflected at COP28, where the goal will be to convince every country in the world to sign onto a statement expected to urge greater climate action. India and the UAE, by being presidents of the G20 and COP28, respectively, are in important positions because they will wield influence over those conferences’ agendas.

As a spokesperson from Guilbeault’s office told Canada’s National Observer, the fingerprints of the G20 are often seen in the solutions adopted at COP28. And so, “while it is early days to think about COP28, this is the right moment to start building that relationship (with the UAE),” he said.

Phillip Lipscy, a political science professor at the University of Toronto and chair of Japanese politics and global affairs, said the G7 and G20 often play agenda-setting roles across a range of issues in global politics, pointing to the G7 launching the Climate Club last year.

Will Canada be able to leverage international groups like the G7 and G20 to drive the global climate agenda? #cdnpoli #G7 #COP28

“For a middle power like Canada, seeking to shape the global agenda by leveraging its membership in the G7 is a logical strategy,” he said. “However, there are limits to this strategy — the G7 no longer holds a dominant share of global GDP or emissions, while the G20 is sharply divided along geopolitical lines, particularly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Some climate advocates were quick to say the G7 statement is inadequate because it only calls for the phaseout of “unabated” fossil fuels — a loophole that can still allow for coal, oil and gas to be burned. Climate science is clear that fossil fuels must be rapidly phased out in order to limit global warming, not simply made cleaner through the use of abating technologies like carbon capture and storage during the production stage.

Climate Action Network International’s head of global political strategy Harjeet Singh said this past weekend’s G7 ministerial meeting saw some progress on climate and energy issues, but it was “deeply problematic” to see the phrase “unabated” fossil fuels in the G7 statement.

Singh also said the urgency of the climate crisis was not properly reflected by the G7 ministers. He called it “quite worrying, especially because this ministerial happened just a few weeks after the IPCC report (was published), which said there’s a narrowing window of opportunity for climate action.”

Harjeet Singh at a protest calling on rich countries to establish a loss and damage fund for poorer countries at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo by John Woodside/Canada’s National Observer

Other international environmental advocacy organizations were blunt in their critique of the G7 climate, energy and environment meeting, too. Oil Change International’s Asia program manager Susanne Wong said it “revealed Japan’s failure of climate leadership at a global level.” Wong accused the host country of “derailing the transition to clean energy with its dirty energy strategy.”

The future of coal power was central to this G7 meeting and revealed rifts between member states. Japan was looking for support to use ammonia in coal-fired power plants to lessen the greenhouse gas impact but met tough pushback from Canada and the U.K., which didn’t want to see the life of coal plants extended.

Meanwhile, Hiroki Osada, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth Japan, said in a statement: “Japan has become both a promise-breaker and Earth-destroyer” by continuing to finance fossil fuel projects, adding the country should commit to phasing out coal by 2030 like some other G7 countries, including Canada.

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Sigh. Let's face it. Our species, supposedly characterized by the ability to reason is truly starting to look too dumb to survive.

While Trudeau flies around the planet and plans to build giant rare earth mines all over virgin land!

Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum standing there, lying to the people with big sh*t eating grins on their faces. Such a disgrace to our environment and country.