What to watch at the G-7 summit on climate change, energy

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What to watch at the G-7 summit on climate change, energy

Leaders from the Group of Seven major industrial countries will convene in Germany on Sunday, with guest attendees from Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal, South Africa and Ukraine.

The summit comes as the world confronts multiple crises, including an energy crunch sparked by the war in Ukraine, a worsening famine in the Horn of Africa, and a string of climate disasters, from massive floods in China to historic heat waves in Europe and the United States.

The overlapping crises around energy security and food security will test world leaders’ resolve to tackle climate change, which has exacerbated the other crises in many ways, according to experts who track international climate diplomacy.

“The geopolitical context of this G-7 is hugely challenging,” Alex Scott, climate diplomacy and geopolitics program leader at E3G, an energy think tank, told The Climate 202.

“But climate change is a threat multiplier,” Scott added. “So addressing climate change has to be part of the solution to addressing any of these other issues.”

Here’s what we’re watching as world leaders prepare to gather at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria this weekend:

Will Germany face criticism over its potential gas deal with Senegal?

Top environmental ministers from the G-7 agreed in May to end government financing for overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of this year. 

But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has recently expressed interest in investing in gas projects in Senegal, as his country tries to wean itself off Russian oil and gas.

“It is a matter worth pursuing intensively,” Scholz said at a news conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall during a three-day trip to the African nation last month.

Vanessa Nakate, a youth climate justice activist from Uganda, slammed Scholz’s overtures as “a misguided and selfish decision.”

“When gas is a bridge, it’s a bridge to hell,” Nakate said in a statement. “We need Germany and the rest of the G7 to be real leaders and scale up the investment to clean energy globally.”

Eddie Pérez, international climate diplomacy manager at Climate Action Network Canada, said Scholz faces a test of his leadership on climate after the era of Angela Merkel, who was dubbed the “climate chancellor” for her environmental promises.

“Merkel, in the middle of different types of crises, was always able to put the climate crisis as a priority,” Pérez told The Climate 202. “But maybe this time it will be different.”

Will leaders backslide on their commitment to ditching coal?

At the United Nations climate summit in Scotland last fall, COP26 President Alok Sharma called for “consigning coal to history.” And in May, the top environmental ministers from the G-7 committed to phasing out unabated coal power, although they declined to set a date for doing so.

But Austria, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands announced plans this week to prepare to resurrect old coal-fired power plants. The moves came just days after Russia reduced gas flows to several European countries, heightening fears of energy shortages.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Tuesday that the prospect of firing up old coal plants is “bitter” but essential ahead of winter.

Meanwhile, climate activists have called on Japan — the world’s third-largest economy — to accelerate the pace of its transition away from coal.

“As the outlier in its speed of energy transition, Japan needs to go back to the drawing board and get serious about the amount of clean electricity that it needs to build,” Dave Jones, senior program lead at Ember, an energy think tank, said in a statement.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday, however, that it would withdraw financing for key coal-fired power plant projects in Bangladesh and Indonesia.

“Japan will continue to comprehensively support a realistic transition toward a carbon-free society while … taking into account the unique circumstances of developing countries,” the ministry said in a statement.

Granholm meets with refiners on smog-fighting restrictions, fuel export ban

During a meeting with refiners on Thursday aimed at combating high gasoline prices, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm expressed interest in lifting summertime smog-fighting restrictions and backed away from a plan to ban fuel exports, according to two people familiar with the matter, Jarrett Renshaw and Laura Sanicola report for Reuters. 

The White House had already been considering lifting summertime restrictions that require refiners to avoid components like butane to prevent smog. Granholm told the oil executives that the Energy Department will discuss the issue with the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

The executives have urged the administration not to ban U.S. fuel exports to address record gas prices, which averaged $4.94 per gallon nationwide on Thursday, according to AAA. Granholm seemed to take the option off the table, the people said.

An Energy spokesperson said Granholm did not tell refiners that President Biden was leaning toward any specific steps. The secretary “reiterated that [Biden] is prepared to act quickly and decisively, using the tools available to him as appropriate.”

The meeting did not yield any consensus on long-term solutions, but both sides struck a conciliatory tone and pledged to keep talking in good faith.

“We appreciate Secretary Granholm’s invitation to participate in the conversation, which was an important step toward achieving greater energy security, economic prosperity and environmental protection,” Chevron CEO Michael Wirth said in a statement.

Fish and Wildlife Service reverses Trump definition of habitat for endangered species

The Biden administration is tossing the definition of “habitat” that the Trump administration narrowed by limiting federal protections to only areas that can sustain endangered species, rather than areas that the species could someday live, Catrin Einhorn reports for the New York Times. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries are striking a single sentence from the Trump-era regulations, returning to rules that allow the agencies to protect a “critical habitat” even if it is unlivable.

The move comes amid a biodiversity crisis, with nearly 1 million plant and animal species across the globe under the threat of extinction. The issue is being exacerbated by rapid development and global warming. 

“For some species that are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss or climate change, and there’s literally not a lot of habitat left, we need every tool in the toolbox to be able to protect the remaining habitats that could be suitable,” said Bridget Fahey, division chief for conservation and classification at Fish and Wildlife.

Sunrise Movement endorses Rep. Andy Levin in key Democratic primary

The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate advocacy group, on Thursday threw its support behind Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) for Michigan’s 11th District ahead of a rare incumbent-vs.-incumbent primary against Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.). 

“Make no mistake, this race is a climate race, and we are proud to back Andy Levin, who as a product of union organizing and an original cosponsor of the Green New Deal, has proven himself a lifelong movement member, and someone who is beholden to the people, not corporations,” Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash said in a statement. 

Levin has signed a pledge not to accept donations from fossil fuel executives while working to shut down Line 5, a crude oil pipeline that runs through the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, Stevens has been reluctant to support shutting down the pipeline, saying it is not a federal issue and instead falls into the lap of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). 

“With our planet on fire, costs rising and wages stagnant, it’s time to reject corporate cronyism that has polluted our planet and made working people poorer and sicker,” Levin said in a statement. “It’s an honor to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Sunrise Movement in the fight to build a sustainable economy and a green future.”

Biden joins East Coast governors to boost offshore wind

President Biden and 11 governors from states along the East Coast are teaming up to accelerate the growth of the domestic offshore wind industry, Matthew Daly reports for the Associated Press. 

The formal partnership, announced Thursday, includes a bipartisan group of governors from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. 

According to the White House, the initiative is meant to “provide Americans with cleaner and cheaper energy, create good-paying jobs and invest billions in new American supply chains,” including construction of wind turbines, shipbuilding and servicing. The president has set a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, enough to power 10 million homes, to reach a carbon-free electric grid by 2035. 

Missing from the agreement is Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has opted to exclude the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an effort to reduce carbon emissions. A spokesperson for Youngkin declined to comment on the offshore wind group.

Alaska’s June wildfires break records, fueled by hot, dry weather

More than 1 million acres have already burned in Alaska, the earliest date on record, forcing Indigenous people from their homes, harming air quality and overwhelming resources, Jacob Feuerstein and Nathaniel Herz report for The Post. 

Unusually hot and dry weather — intensified by climate change — has helped ignite more than 300 wildfires in recent weeks, with more than 100 continuing to burn. Some tribal elders of Alaska’s southwest have also described longer, warmer growing seasons leading to brush in tundra vegetation that easily catches fire. 

More oppressive heat is forecast to expand across the state over the next week, potentially sparking new fires and further increasing the toll on residents, with more than a month remaining in the wildfire season.

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