Climate pledges at this week’s G7 meeting of the world’s major economies in Cornwall represent positive action, according to top environmental researchers at the University of Oxford. But, in response to the summit agenda, the climate experts call for strong leadership from the leading economies and insist the world needs to stop using fossil fuels now – if global warming is to be tackled effectively.
Professor Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science and the Environment.
‘What is most interesting in these summits is what isn’t said: the G7 is, perhaps understandably, still focussed on the easy early wins. But why can no one bring themselves to point out the obvious: we have to stop fossil fuels from causing global warming before the world stops using fossil fuels. Which means we need to develop safe and permanent disposal of the carbon dioxide they generate, and stop dumping it into the atmosphere. And while everyone likes to talk about nature, we can’t turn rocks into trees indefinitely. Why aren’t we talking about this?’
Professor E J Milner Gulland, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity.
‘On 21st May the G7 Ministers responsible for Climate and Environment issued a joint communiqué that recognised the huge challenges which face the world if we do not address the loss of nature and climate change – and if we do not do this in a just and sustainable way in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. It also recognised the role of environmental destruction in increasing the risk of future pandemics, and the imperative to build back better after COVID-19.
‘I applaud these sentiments and I hope that the G7 meeting this week will cement them into concrete actions. The tailwinds are behind us – the majority of people around the world are calling for action to address the climate and ecological crisis – but political will, strong governance frameworks and major financial investment from governments and business are needed to bring these warm words to reality.’
Professor Sam Fankhauser, Head of Climate Economics at the University’s Smith School published new analysis this week that found that Climate laws implemented by the G7 group cut their collective carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 1.3bn tonnes (GtCO2) in 2019 - 12% lower than they would have been, if no climate laws had been put into place.
‘Climate change policy in the G7 has made a difference. However, it has only stabilised emissions, rather than brought them down. The focus therefore has to shift from announcing stronger emissions targets toward meeting them. This means both stronger climate laws and the more determined implementation of the ones we have.’
Professor Yadvinder Malhi, Professor of Ecosystem Science.
'There is an urgent need to set an ambitious agenda to reverse global biodiversity decline. For society to flourish, the natural world must thrive, and biodiversity can no longer be the poor relation as we tackle the linked threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. The G7 nations have a responsibility to support the transformation that is needed. They directly have experienced significant levels of biodiversity loss and play a major role in the consumption of goods that rely on, and put pressure on, biodiversity worldwide.'
Dr Nicola Ranger, Deputy Director, UK Centre for Greening Finance and Investment and Oxford Sustainable Finance Programme at the Smith School.
‘We need finance to work for the climate transition. To date, most financial flows have not accounted for climate change, and so finance flowed towards activities that take us further away from our climate goals. This is a lose–lose scenario. Bad for the planet and bad for finance. Over the next 15 years, we will need around $93 trillion investment in low-carbon infrastructure globally. This is the biggest investment opportunity in history – truly a win-win.
'We saw great progress at the G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting, including shifts toward mandatory climate-related disclosures and greater assessment of risk. This is an essential foundation, but to truly create the structural change needed to meet our net zero commitments, we need to do more to enable and encourage finance to flow.
'We also cannot forget about adaptation and resilience. This should be front and centre right now in the minds of G7 leaders. COVID-19 has demonstrated the urgent need for greater investment in resilience in every country; this isn’t just a development issue. Climate change will hit us much harder. Our focus must be not only building back greener, but stronger.'
Dr Laurence Wainwright, Director of the masters programme on sustainability, enterprise and the environment.
‘All scientific evidence indicates that we are overshooting planetary boundaries and must reformulate the relationship between economic systems, human society, and nature. While the ship for a green pandemic recovery has nearly sailed, there is still time. And the G7 perhaps offers the last chance to board the boat before the opportunity is missed. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We can revitalize our economies whilst simultaneously moving quickly toward net-zero, sustainable development.”
‘We need to see genuine leadership from the G7 countries. Following through talk with action by won’t just benefit the G7 countries themselves – which account for around 40% of global GDP – but will also offer both carrots and sticks for other countries and economies.’
Dr Michael Obersteiner, Director of the Environmental Change Institute.
‘The pledge to end all new finance for coal power by the end of 2021, matched by increased support for clean energy alternatives like solar and wind will be straightforward to implement. In terms of levelized costs, renewables are fully competitive already, even without subsidies in many geographies. It is puzzling why there are still fossil fuel subsidies considered.
The benefits gained from increasing the quantity of finance for climate action will depend on the type of financial and policy instruments that guide it. One very important issue here is that a reduction in policy uncertainty by G7 countries would direct much of the existing capital in the right direction.
‘The $100bn per annum target to support developing countries is a positive step. However, one important issue is that we create the right framework conditions for this money to be spent effectively.’
Professor Peter Bruce, Wolfson Chair in Materials and Physical Secretary of the Royal Society.
'The G7 is an unprecedented opportunity for the UK and the wider G7, to show world leadership on climate change action. Each country needs to develop an evidence-based roadmap, defining how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and how to make the planet more resilient to climate change. The roadmap should identify which low or zero carbon technologies and nature-based solutions are truly ready to deploy now, which require further development and demonstration at scale and which further research. We cannot wait for new solutions but equally we do not have all the solutions we need to reach net zero by 2050.'
The leading environmental academics comment as part of the Oxford’s True Planet drive to put the university’s interdisciplinary climate research on the agenda.