G7 summit: Are Biden and Kishida climate walkers or just talkers?

Host Japan and the US are betraying their climate commitments. Unless the G7 does better, the world won’t either.

President Joe Biden, left, reacts as he meets with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima, Japan
US President Joe Biden, left, and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima, Japan, May 18, 2023, before the start of the G7 Summit. Critics accuse both of violating their climate commitments [Susan Walsh/AP Photo]

This weekend’s G7 Leaders Summit in Hiroshima will be one of multifaceted significance.

Amid the global energy crisis, Russia’s continuing war on Ukraine and the closing window of opportunity to act on climate change, the heads of governments of Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States will gather at the site where the world’s first atomic bomb was weaponised. It is undoubtedly a dramatic background against which world leaders will deliberate on issues that affect the collective future of our people and our planet.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and President Joe Biden of the US have positioned themselves as leaders on issues pertaining to both climate and security — the latter being a key element of Kishida’s decision to host the talks in Hiroshima. But both have taken backwards steps on their climate commitments.

Perhaps the greatest exercise of smoke and mirrors has been Japan’s promotion of dangerous fossil gas as a component of the global energy transition. The Japanese government has for some time been promoting LNG upstream development. Consider the Sakhalin-2 project — an oil and gas development in Sakhalin Island in Russia, in which two Japanese firms together own 22.5 percent stakes, making Tokyo complicit in helping the Kremlin finance the war in Ukraine.

The country is also responsible for funding the disastrous Matabari coal plant in Bangladesh – one of the world’s most climate-impacted countries. The plant costs eight to 10 times what similar projects cost. Japan is also pushing for a revamp of an LNG import facility on Bangladesh’s coast, which could lead to even more fossil fuel extraction.

Domestically, Kishida continues to express support for non-renewable means of transitioning Japan’s energy mix, including the promotion of ammonia and hydrogen co-firing. But it is increasingly clear that this is aimed at justifying the continued use of coal and gas-powered plants beyond 2030 and extending the use of dangerous, old nuclear power plants in Japan beyond 40 years – a threshold set after the disaster in Fukushima. And if it is gas in Bangladesh, Japanese finance is behind overseas coal projects in countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

What about the US?

While riding the win of passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $369bn in funding to tackle climate change, Biden has in the past two months approved two mega fossil fuel initiatives in Alaska — one of the US’s biggest oil-drilling projects in recent decades, and plans to export LNG, including through a 1,300km (800-mile) pipeline. Ironically, Japan is expected to be a top buyer of the gas from the LNG project.

Biden claims to be a climate president, but by continuing to approve mega fossil fuel projects, he is breaking his climate promises and betraying already overburdened communities on the front line of climate change.

And it is not just the US and Japan. The entire G7 has backed a so-called “just” energy transition deal with Indonesia that allows the Southeast Asian nation to use fossil gas as a transition fuel. Fossil gas is the industry’s last desperate attempt to retain its monopoly on energy security and block the needed justly sourced, justly implemented clean energy transition. LNG is a fossil fuel: when burned, it releases toxic greenhouse gasses — predominantly, heat-trapping methane —  into the atmosphere.

As with any other fossil fuel, fossil gas is located in certain geographic locations, meaning the profits of its extraction are privatised among fossil fuel corporations and governments in those areas, while the negative impacts of its extraction are socialised among communities across the world.

The prospects for meaningful commitments on climate at the G7 summit over the next three days were dampened by the outcome of the meeting of the grouping’s environment ministers in April in Sapporo, Japan. In contradiction to the scientific consensus that coal-fired power plants must be phased out by 2030 to secure a liveable world, the US, Japan and the European Union blocked a move to set a deadline for G7 members.

What seven of the world’s largest advanced economies do — and do not do — on the energy transition in the next three days will affect the entire planet. These countries are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the global emissions that have led to the current climate crisis. Along with international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, they could make significant moves towards ending the fossil fuel era — for their own economies and by providing technical and financial support for developing countries to transition.

Developing nations will be looking to the G7 communique for cues. If the world’s richest nations are not willing to take bold actions towards a fossil fuel-free global economy, why should countries that have yet to undergo the same level of economic development bear the brunt of the disruption brought by a shift away from fossil fuels?

The choice before G7 leaders is simple: Will they lock us into endless climate chaos, or actually walk the talk to bring about a just, secure, and liveable future for us all?

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.