G7 Summit: Burden of Decarbonisation Must Be Shared By All Nations

11th June 2021

On the day of the G7 Summit in Cornwall (11th June), our climate emergency specialist Alex Massie applauded commitments by the G7 to tighten climate targets, and halt funding for fossil-fuel burning activity in low-income countries. But he also wants to raise the alarm that some routes to stop rising temperatures – like offsetting in far away places, or mining rare minerals for electrification in an unsustainable manner – may make it harder for other countries to reduce their own territorial emissions. He recommends introducing tried and tested domestic policies that support all economies to shift towards a circular economy – and that this is the only way we can make a fair and just transition to net zero.

Alex Massie has been supporting organisations, local authorities, and cities around the UK with their Net Zero strategies and plans since the first climate emergency declarations in 2018, including the City of Liverpool, the City of Bristol and various London Boroughs. He recently led a review of carbon reduction approaches for the Environment Agency.

Nationally Determined Contributions – A Country’s Carbon Emissions

Massie said: “I applaud the world’s leading economies’ ambition to accelerate climate action to limit global temperature rises to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Accepting that Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from G7 countries before 2020 were inadequate, reflected in the recent strengthening of 2030 targets by these nations, is also a welcome step.

However, when setting new more ambitious targets, G7 countries must be mindful that the route they choose could impact other countries’ abilities to reach their own climate goals. Further analysis is needed, but if the actions of the G7 are focused solely on the emissions from within their borders – rather than taking a global view – then the risk is that they will simply offshore these emissions to other often poorer parts of the world.

Destructive mining of Rare Minerals for Electrification

The drive to source specific, rare materials for electric vehicles in richer nations is just one example of where the burden of decarbonisation is, to an extent, offshored, with the mining of these materials bringing their own GHG burden, along with localised  impacts on biodiversity . There are however environmental policies that G7 governments can develop and legislate for which would reduce the need to mine for electrification – promoting active travel and car sharing reduces the need for as many vehicles, designing for end of life to support a transition to a circular economy and sustainable sourcing through recycling rare-earth metals from existing electronics to keep them in use for longer.

All Hail the Circular Economy

“As demonstrated in our research, governments can use environmental fiscal reform to shift the burden of taxation away from things we want to incentivize, like jobs, onto things we want to prevent, such as pollution. Putting the right legislation in place is necessary to create meaningful change, while ensuring a level playing field. G7 nations must recognise the role international supply chains play in making these promises more than hot air. Governments can use policies like Deposit Return Schemes or Extended Producer Responsibility schemes for certain products to implement a resource-efficient circular economy that reduces consumption and keeps materials in use for as long as possible through waste prevention, reuse and high-quality recycling. If they support low-income countries to do the same they will achieve a coordinated reduction of emissions across the world, not just shift the burden onto others.

Featured image: By jplenio via Pixabay.