Group of Seven (G7) energy and environment ministers, following a two-day meeting in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo, issued a 36-page communique laying out their commitments ahead of a G7 summit in Hiroshima in May. The detailed statement covered sections on environment, climate and energy. It reaffirmed a commitment to accelerating the clean energy transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “We call on and will work with other countries to end new unabated coal-fired power generation projects globally as soon as possible to accelerate the clean energy transition in a just manner,” the statement says, stipulating that countries should rely on “predominantly” clean energy by 2035.

The president-designate for the next United Nations COP28 climate talks to be held in Dubai in November, Sultan Al Jaber, issued a statement during the meeting urging G7 nations to increase financial support for developing countries in their efforts to transition to clean energy. He pressed for a “new deal" on climate finance to support mitigation of climate change, especially in developing nations. “We must make a fairer deal for the Global South," he said. He urged the G7 countries to follow through on a $100bn pledge made at the 2009 COP15.  

Economic development is the first defence against climate change, Bhupender Yadav, India's environment minister, said in a tweet. “The global goal of reaching net zero by 2050 needs enhanced emission descaling by developed nations” to enable countries such as India to develop their economies, which is “the best defence against the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and pollution”.

The statement, however, opened with a highly political paragraph, largely unrelated to wider environmental and energy concerns, condemning “Russia’s illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine”, and condemning “Russia’s attempts to use energy and food as tools of geopolitical coercion”. It continued: “We stand ready to support the sustainable and resilient recovery and green reconstruction of Ukraine, including by sharing our experience, knowledge and expertise regarding war-related debris and pollution management, ecosystem and water systems restoration, replanting of forests and shelterbelts, decontamination of mined forests and lands, restoration of the protected wetlands and marine areas impacted by the war. We will continue to help Ukraine repair and restore its critical energy and environmental infrastructure deliberately destroyed by Russia, and emphasise our strong support for the creation of clean and resilient energy infrastructure in Ukraine.”

On energy security and clean energy transitions (paragraph 49), the statement noted: “We emphasise that an accelerated clean energy transition towards net-zero is key to improving security, stability and affordability of global energy supply. We underline our commitment, in the context of a global effort, to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest.

It continued: “While acknowledging various pathways according to each country’s energy situation, industrial and social structures, and geographical conditions, we highlight that these should lead to our common goal of net zero. In this regard, we reaffirm the importance of realising simultaneously safety, energy security, economic efficiency, and environment …. We emphasise the importance of countering geopolitical risks, including with respect to critical minerals, for the clean energy transition. To this end, we commit to holistically address energy security, the climate crisis and geopolitical risks.”

Of the 92 paragraphs in the statement, only two (70 and 71) mention nuclear energy. Paragraph 70 said: “Those countries that opt to use nuclear energy recognise its potential to provide affordable low-carbon energy that can reduce dependence on fossil fuels, to address the climate crisis and to ensure global energy security as a source of baseload energy and grid flexibility. They commit to maximising the use of existing reactors safely, securely, and efficiently, including by advancing their safe long-term operation, in addressing the current energy crisis.”

It added that the development and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies including small modular reactors [SMRs] within the next decade “will likely contribute to more countries around the world adopting nuclear power as part of their clean and secure energy mix”. They should also contribute to initiatives from international organisations “enabling third countries to develop regulatory and financial frameworks for these technologies, and support of robust, mutually beneficial partnerships together with strengthening the related financial tools”.

The statement said nuclear countries commit to support development and construction of SMRs and other advanced reactors with advanced safety systems in line with IAEA safety standards… “building robust and resilient nuclear supply chains including nuclear fuel”, and strengthening nuclear technology and human resources in cooperation with “like-minded countries with shared values”.

The paragraph also advocated “working with reliable partners to reduce dependence on Russia and to ensure security of supply by a continuous supply diversification efforts”. It continued: “We recall the G7 Leaders’ commitment to evaluate measures to reduce reliance on civil nuclear-related goods from Russia and to assist countries seeking to diversify their supplies. With this in mind, we support the establishment of a working group to explore further cooperation.”  

Paragraph 71 relates to the Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident. Noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported on progress at the site over the past years, it welcomed “the steady progress of decommissioning work at the site and Japan’s transparent efforts with IAEA based on scientific evidence”. It added: “We support the IAEA’s independent review to ensure that the discharge of Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) treated water will be conducted consistent with IAEA safety standards and international law and that it will not cause any harm to humans and the environment, which is essential for the decommissioning of the site and the reconstruction of Fukushima”. It also recognised the step-by-step progress of environmental restoration for the affected area outside the plant site. It encouraged Japan “to proceed with these ongoing initiatives in an open and transparent manner, in close communication with the international community”.

The G7’s support for Japan’s plans to ALPS treated water to the sea provoked responses from Germany, China and South Korea as well as environmental groups. At a press conference after the Ministers' Meeting, Japanese Economy, Trade & Industry Minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, said that "the steady decommissioning progress including the release of treated water into the ocean would be welcomed”, according to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun.

However, Germany's Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety & Consumer Protection, Steffi Lemke, said that, while she respects the efforts made by Japan after the nuclear accident, she "cannot welcome the release of the treated water”. After the press conference, Nishimura admitted to the media that he was "slightly wrong" in saying that Japan's discharge plan was welcomed by everyone.

China’s Global Times cited Zhou Yongsheng, deputy director of the Japanese Studies Centre at the China Foreign Affairs University as saying: "There are over 60 nuclear radioactive substances released from the tainted wastewater that cannot be completely removed. Only part of them can be filtered by devices, while the others were diluted by adding water.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, commenting on Lemke’s remarks, said Japan had ignored legitimate safety concerns raised by the international community.

"Such a deliberate attempt to whitewash wrong decisions is doomed to be futile," Wang noted.

Reacting to the G7 statement, South Korea said it did not represent the final assessment of the safety of the programme by IAEA, and reiterating its position that the wastewater discharge plan must ensure safety on a scientific and objective level and meet international standards. Transparency must also be ensured in all processes of the discharge, said a press release from the South Korean government.

Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace East Asia, said the Japanese government “is desperate for international endorsement for its Pacific Ocean radioactive water dumping plans”, which he described as “a violation of the UN Convention Law of the Sea”.

Image: The G7 ministers on climate, energy and environment. Front row, from left are Vannia Gava, Italy's Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Ecological Transition, EU Oceans and Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, Italy's Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, Japan's Environment Minister Akihiro Nishimura, Japan's Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Germany's Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, Canada's Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada's Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Germany's Economy and Climate Minister Patrick Graichen. Back row, from left are US Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, France's Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France's Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Bechu, Britain's Environment Secretary Therese Coffey and Britain's Energy Secretary Grant Shapps (courtesy of AP Photo / Hiro Komae)

Date: Wednesday, 19 April 2023
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