The Group of Seven (G7) is not an international organisation, but rather an informal forum in which heads of state and government can discuss global economic and foreign policy issues in a small group.
The G7 comprises Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, the USA and Canada. In addition, the EU is represented at all summits. The Group of Eight (G8) comprised the above listed countries and Russia between 1998 and 2014.
Several G7 meetings are held every year at different levels during which the member countries coordinate common positions in a variety of policy areas.
The presidency of the G7 rotates annually among its members.
G7 activities in environmental policy
The environment has long been an integral part of the G7 policy agenda. Important issues come up again and again, including climate policy, biodiversity, forest conservation, marine protection and the fight against environmental crime, but the main focus is on current economically relevant topics.
A milestone in environmental policy was the initiative adopted in Genoa in 2001 which was successfully implemented in the following years to make trade and environment a key topic for the WTO trade talks in Doha.
Climate action was made a priority area for the first time at the 2005 G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. As a result, the heads of state and government adopted a plan of action on climate change, clean energy and sustainable development. The German G8 Presidency in 2007 was instrumental in laying the foundation for a long-term global climate target aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050. A second major success was the drawing up of a road map to bring about a UN climate agreement. Biodiversity was another topic put on the G8 agenda for the first time during the German Presidency. The Potsdam Initiative – Biological Diversity 2010 set specific activities in motion concerning science, industry, trade, funding and marine protection. When the G8 met in Heiligendamm, Germany also invited the major emerging economies China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa – referred to as G8+5 states – to a G8 Summit for the first time.
As part of the Heiligendamm process the G8 and the emerging economies agreed on particularly close cooperation in several areas such as energy efficiency. In 2009 during the Italian G8 Presidency, the year 1990 was incorporated into the long-term global climate target as the reference year. Furthermore, the G8 states acknowledged the necessity to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The G8 and G7 also continued to support international climate policy goals and activities in the years that followed. However, on 26 and 27 May 2017 at the summit of the G7 heads of state and government in Taormina, Italy, a joint position on climate action could not be reached. While six heads of state and government and the EU expressly reconfirmed their commitment to swiftly implementing the Paris Agreement, the US did not join this consensus. Alongside climate action and the post-2015 Development Agenda, other environmental issues such as resource efficiency, marine litter and nuclear safety also played an important role during the German G7 Presidency in 2015.
In addition to the annual summits of the heads of state and government, the environment ministers of the G7 have met at irregular intervals over the past years to discuss key environmental topics. The newest G7 Environment Ministers’ Meeting took place under Italian Presidency on 11 and 12 June 2017 in Bologna. The meeting focused on a number of issues including climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 2030 Agenda, sustainable financing instruments, environmental policy for employment, resource efficiency, marine litter and ecological finance reform. Two side events were held by academic people as well as representatives from business enterprises from the G7 countries. They discussed key issues of environmental protection and sustainability in their businesses and presented the results with a final report in the ministerial round.
Meetings of energy and environment ministers of the 20 major energy-consuming countries and the International Energy Agency also took place between 2005 and 2008 (Gleneagles Dialogue).
Results of the G7/G8 Summits
Due to a new political situation, widely differing views were expressed during the consultations at the G7 summit under the Italian Presidency, held on 26 and 27 May 2017 in Taormina. In most areas, however, the G7 were able to reach an agreement including the areas of foreign and security policy, combatting terrorism, global economy, trade, the 2030 Agenda, food security and Africa.
However, they were unable to take a joint position in relation to climate and energy. There was consensus on strengthening joint energy security, guaranteeing open, transparent, liquid and more secure global markets for energy resources and technologies and also on the need for the highest standards in nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation. The seven heads of state and government and the EU are also determined to utilise the significant economic opportunities for growth and the creation of jobs arising from restructuring the energy sector and clean technologies.
Yet, only six of the G7 countries and the EU reaffirmed their commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement, made at the 2016 summit in Ise-Shima. Due to the ongoing review of their measures regarding climate change and the Paris Agreement, the US did not join this consensus.
The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited the G7 heads of state and government to the summit meeting at Ise-Shima on the Japanese peninsula of Kashikojama on 26 and 27 May 2016. Following the 2015 summit at Schloss Elmau which focussed on very ambitious statements regarding environmental policy, the 2016 declaration concentrated more on the traditional topics of foreign and economic policy. The G7 heads of state and government wanted to stimulate the global economy and also discussed the reasons for refugee flows, combating terrorism, sanctions against Russia and empowering women and girls.
Key statements on climate action: The G7 committed to taking a leadership role in securing ratification of the Paris Agreement as soon as possible, implementing the nationally determined contributions and formulating and communicating long-term reduction strategies (well ahead of the 2020 deadline). In addition, the G7 reaffirmed its support for developing countries and stressed the continuing importance of the Elmau initiatives. Furthermore, it called on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to enable carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards by adopting a Global Market-Based Measure and welcomed the 2016 amendment of the Montreal Protocol concerning the phase down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). It also encouraged that aspects of climate change and action serve as a point of reference in various parts of the declaration.
Furthermore, it was remarkable that the importance of the energy sector for the Paris Agreement was being underlined. In addition to a strong focus on statements concerning energy security and gas supply, security reference was made to the key decarbonisation target of Elmau (once again without giving a specific timeline) and the G7 support of renewable energies and energy efficiency was reaffirmed. Particularly significant was that the G7 called on all countries to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
Various chapters of the final declaration mention the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are to serve as guiding principles for cooperation. Key concepts laid out in the 2030 Agenda, e.g. the universal obligation of implementation, the balanced consideration of the three dimensions of sustainable development, the transition to a sustainable economy and an integrated approach will be taken into account. With its summit declaration, the G7 clearly showed its commitment to the universal implementation of the 2030 Agenda, which may be regarded as an important signal its global implementation.
Following the summit in Elmau last year, resource efficiency was once again included in the G7 summit declaration thus making it a permanent item on the G7 Agenda. The future-oriented decisions on resource efficiency taken at the G7 summit in Elmau were consistently pursued and further developed by the Japanese G7 Presidency. The summit declaration stressed the key importance of resource efficiency in the context of the 2030 Agenda with a view to making global resource utilisation sustainable and fair. Reference was also made in this context to marine litter, the G7 reaffirmed its commitment to address this topic. The "Toyama Framework on Material Cycles" adopted by the G7 Environment Ministers' Meeting on 15 and 16 May in Toyama was endorsed by the heads of state and government, it included clear commitments and tasks for the coming years. In this context the summit honoured the G7 Alliance on Resource Efficiency, established under the German Presidency, and the cooperation with business and other stakeholders.
With regard to nuclear safety and security, the G7 welcomed the report by the Nuclear Safety and Security Group (NSSG) and reaffirmed its commitment to highest levels of nuclear safety worldwide. It stressed the importance of the Convention on Nuclear Safety and welcomed the successful outcome of the 4th Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.
A more detailed list of the results of Germany’s G7 Presidency can be found here.
The heads of state and government of the G7 countries met in Brussels from 4 to 5 June 2014. After deciding on 24 March 2014 to suspend their cooperation with Russia because of its annexation of Crimea in violation of international law, they chose to meet in the G7 format and in Brussels instead of in Sochi.
The developments in Ukraine and relations with Russia did play a central role at the summit, but the G7 leaders directed their efforts towards communicating clear messages on foreign policy, the world economy, energy and climate, development policy and Africa.
The G7 launched an initiative on improving energy supply security. In addition to short-term measures such as threat assessments and emergency plans for the coming winter, an action plan to increase gas supply security is to be developed by the International Energy Agency working with the European Commission by the end of 2014.
The G7 energy ministers will meet again under the German Presidency in 2015 to move this initiative forward.
In the run-up to the summit, Germany had worked hard to see that the G7 would take up climate issues, and in Brussels the group reiterated its commitment to the goal of limiting the rise in the global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. Within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the G7 group remained committed to seeing that a global agreement – a new protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties is adopted in 2015 for the period after 2020. The G7 group welcomed the Climate Summit of the United Nations Secretary-General in September 2014, also reaffirming its support for the commitments of industrialised countries to mobilise 100 billion US-Dollar per year by 2020. It welcomed the adoption of the Green Climate Fund’s operating rules and the decision to begin its initial resource mobilisation in the coming months. Under the Montreal Protocol, the G7 will work to wind down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC).
The group also underlined its special responsibility for developing the post-2015 agenda for sustainable development, aiming for an ambitious and universal agenda based on a single set of clear and measurable goals. Germany now holds the G7 Presidency and the Federal Chancellor invited the members to a summit at Schloss Elmau on 4 and 5 June 2015.
For the 2013 G8 summit, Prime Minister David Cameron invited the G8 heads of state and government to Lough Erne, Northern Ireland on 17 and 18 June. Foreign policy was a major item on the agenda. Apart from these issues, the British Presidency focused on the three Ts (trade, tax and transparency) to advance growth, prosperity and economic development worldwide. The G8 also dealt with climate change - the biggest challenge to future economic growth and prosperity. They maintained their commitment that it is urgently needed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions before and after 2020 to help effectively limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels. The G8 leaders announced ambitious and transparent measures under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change both at national and international level. They pledged to work toward the adoption of a new, comprehensive and universally binding agreement by 2015 and its entry into force by 2020 and to raise the level of ambition for reducing greenhouse gas emissions before 2020. These measures are to be supplemented with other activities from other platforms. Two years after the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, the G8 leaders still considered it a priority to strive for and maintain the greatest possible level of nuclear safety worldwide. No other energy issues were discussed at the summit. The tasks set for the International Energy Agency and the International Renewable Energy Agency set at the last summit in Camp David remain in place. With regard to the British priority of transparency, the summit participants adopted, for instance, an Open Data Charta for greater transparency of government data and the use of modern technologies. The key issues of democracy and environment were selected as the next joint G8 areas of action with the aim of producing corresponding data by December 2014. Germany is well prepared for the environmental area with the Enviornmental Information Act, the Act on Access to Digital Spatial Data, the Ordinance to Determine the Conditions for Use for the Provision of Spatial Data of the Federation and data bases for various environmental data.
The focus of the 2012 G8 summit in Camp David on 18 and 19 May under the US Presidency was on the global economic situation, the traditional topic of the meeting. Other key items were energy and climate change, continuing the initiative for food security in Africa, the Deauville Partnership with the countries of the Arab Spring and support for the transition process in Afghanistan.
In its declaration the G8 highlighted the importance of having a diverse energy supply as well as environmentally sound, sustainable, secure and cost-effective energy for global economic growth and climate change mitigation. The Annex to the declaration, the fact sheet, pointed to examples for joint action of the G8 regarding energy security, energy mix and infrastructure, use of renewable energy sources, oil supply security, energy efficiency, product efficiency, short-lived climate pollutants. The G8 heads of state and government expressly supported the results of the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban in 2011, especially the implementation of the Cancun Agreements of 2010 and the establishment of the Durban platform. The Durban platform was acknowledged as an important breakthrough in negotiations for a new international agreement, which is to be drawn up by 2015 and will include all parties. They also pointed to the need to raise the level of ambition of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before 2020 in order to reach the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times.
The G8 also decided to support activities to reduce short-lived climate pollutants in order to supplement international climate policy measures for the reduction of long-lived climate gases and in this context announced that it would join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) founded in 2012. This will create synergies between climate and other environmental policies (in particular emission control, protection of the ozone layer), especially if this coalition supports existing processes in the area of international clean air policy.
From 26 to 27 May 2011 the G8 met in Deauville, France. The focus of the French Presidency was on Internet, nuclear safety, development, Africa and security. In its declaration the G8 confirmed its commitment to the goals of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius and reducing emissions from industrialised countries by at least 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 or a more recent year.
The heads of state and government also championed the swift development of a low-carbon economy, confirmed the goal of reaching a comprehensive binding climate agreement involving all countries and voiced their support for the South African Presidency of the UN climate negotiations in Durban from 28 November to 9 December 2011. The creation of a global climate fund was expressly welcomed.
In the area of biodiversity, the outcomes of the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, in autumn 2011 were commended in particular, for instance regarding access and benefit sharing (ABS). The summit also welcomed the creation of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Other priorities included the topic of green growth and, in response to the events in Fukushima in March 2011, nuclear safety and the call for comprehensive international assessments of nuclear plants.
The G8 Summit of 2010 took place in Muskoka, Canada on 26 June and focussed on development, Africa, international foreign and security policy and environmental protection. Climate action was also a topic on the G8 agenda this year. The 2 degrees Celsius target recognised the previous year and the concept of peaking (peak in greenhouse gas emissions) were reaffirmed in Muskoka. The long-term objective of the G8 to bring down emissions from industrialised countries by at least 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels or a later reference year was also confirmed, as was the global long-term goal of at least halving global emissions by 2050; a reference year for the latter has yet to be set. The G8 committed to releasing the fast start climate funds for 2010 to 2012 pledged in Copenhagen and welcomed the efforts made by the High Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing established by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. In addition, the G8 agreed on increased cooperation in the field of adaptation to climate change. Biodiversity was a topic which was put on the G8 agenda for the first time during the German Presidency in 2007. In Muskoka the G8 recognised the outstanding importance of biological diversity for human wellbeing and acknowledged the fact that the 2010 international biodiversity target, to significantly reducing the loss of species by 2010, would not be achieved. The G8 supported Japan in its efforts for the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and it also acknowledged the necessity of determining a post-2010 political framework. The G8 furthermore welcomed the establishment of an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
G8 and emerging economies agree on 2-degree target for the first time
From 8 to 10 July 2009, the G8 Summit took place in L'Aquila, Italy, a city which had been struck by an earthquake a few months earlier. The summit focussed on the global economic and financial crisis, climate change and greater cooperation of industrialised countries with Africa and emerging economies. On the second day of the G8 Summit the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF), initiated by the US in 2007, discussed new strategies for combating climate change. The Major Economies Forum comprises the world's 16 largest economies, i.e. the G8 countries, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia.
Also participating were Denmark, as host of the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, and Sweden as holder of the EU Presidency. MEF countries produce approx. 80 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The forum has become an important flanking process in international climate politics.
The results in detail:
It was considered a great success that both the G8 countries and the major emerging economies agreed to limit the average temperature increase to a maximum of 2 degrees compared to the pre-industrial level (so-called 2 degrees Celsius target).
The G8 partners acknowledged their frontrunner role in climate protection and agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050. With regard to this long-term goal for industrialised countries the G8 declaration defines "1990 or more recent years" as a base year, outlining, however, that efforts need to be comparable.
The G8 thus confirmed and strengthened the global long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050. A reference year was not determined.
At the Major Economies Forum agreement was reached with the major emerging economies to work together to define a global long-term goal for 2050 before the Copenhagen conference. At the Major Economies Forum, the emerging economies also declared their willingness to take swift action to achieve a meaningful deviation from the business-as-usual emissions scenario. They will receive financial and technical support for their efforts.
The concept of "peaking" (i.e. peak of global greenhouse gas emissions) was laid down in the G8 and the MEF declarations. Although no specific year was set, there was agreement that the peak should be reached as early as possible.
The G8 declared its willingness to contribute its fair share to funding the global fight against climate change and supported the development and implementation of an effective financing mechanism for a post-2012 regime. With the exception of the least developed countries all countries are expected to participate in the financial effort to tackle global climate change according to criteria to be agreed.
The summit also agreed to support the further expansion of the carbon market. The goal: to link national and subnational emissions trading schemes and establish a global carbon market on this basis. Emerging economies and developing countries are to be involved in this process.
The G8 reaffirmed its goal to significantly reduce the global loss of biodiversity by 2010. The heads of state and government also recognised the need to develop a vision for biodiversity conservation for the post-2010 period. The summit declaration also supported the Potsdam Initiative on Biodiversity adopted in Heiligendamm in 2007 and the TEEB project (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) geared towards identifying the economic value of biodiversity.