Global Energy Experts at Penn Respond to G7 Coal Phase Out 

The following voices are gathered to provide expert responses to the April 2024 G7 communiqué on the phase out of coal among the nations. This is a joint collaboration between the Kleinman Center and Perry World House.

Does the Coal Phase Out Go Far Enough?

The G7 meeting communiqué, following meetings in Torino, Italy this week, sends important signals to the world about their intentions to phase out coal on a timeline consistent with 1.5C limits. However, the commitment still falls short of the ambitious and comprehensive plan that is needed from the world’s global leaders.

Worthy of celebration is the group’s translation of their decision at COP28 to phase out fossil fuels into a written commitment. Specifically, they plan to phase out existing unabated coal power generation over roughly the next ten years and reduce use of these plants “as much as possible” until then. This commitment is also accompanied by plans to triple renewable energy—with actual monitoring and tracking led by an international agency—and with guiding objectives of carbon mitigation and energy and climate justice, inclusion, and just transition efforts. 

While it is significant that we are now—finally—talking about a coal phase out, vague plans are not enough. To spur real policy commitments, build coalitions of support, and define and measure progress, it is necessary to have definitive and concrete goals. Current phrasing in the communiqué is not only fuzzy, but it also introduces challenges with setting benchmarks and tracking progress.  

The G7 plans contain other glaring omissions. First, there are no plans for other fossil fuels. Natural gas, for example, is only referenced in connection to Russian gas and the need to enhance security, as well as in connection to reducing methane emissions along gas supply chains. Notably, there is no stated plan for a gas phase out. 

Second, the plan to curtail coal production fails to acknowledge that roughly ten years between now and the still undefined terminal year can result in a massive number of new coal power plant builds—each with an average life of 60 years—across the world, including in rapidly industrializing countries like China, India, and Indonesia.

And, third, the G7 plans for a coal phase out appear pending IEA guidance in 2025 on actions that can facilitate this transition. This plan introduces yet another delay for countries—whether they need the guidance or whether they seize the opportunity to drag their feet until the guidance is issued.

Sanya Carley

Faculty Co-Director
Sanya Carley is the faculty co-director of the Kleinman Center and Presidential Distinguished Professor of Energy Policy and City Planning at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

A Step Forward

When it comes to the future of coal, the most consequential decisions will happen outside the G7—particularly in China, but also in emerging economies like India and Indonesia. Consensus within the G7 is nevertheless important to further ambition in global climate negotiations by showing that wealthy countries are holding up their end of the bargain. 

This year’s communiqué builds incrementally, if ambiguously, on earlier efforts to phase out coal. Setbacks in previous years reflect challenges from Japan and the United States, which lack domestic deadlines, as well as tensions within the European Union, where coal use has increased in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The new commitment finesses these roadblocks with two key concessions. First, it applies only to “unabated” coal emissions from power plants without carbon capture technologies. Second, its deadline is imprecise, with a phase out by “the first half” of the 2030s or on an alternate “timeline consistent with” keeping a 1.5C target “within reach.” (No such timeline exists.)  

This shift reflects recent policy developments in the United States. Although the United States has committed to decarbonize its power sector by 2035, its policy instruments are indirect. Transformative clean energy subsidies support this outcome, although they don’t strictly require it. But by finalizing new power plant rules targeting unabated coal pollution, the Biden administration more credibly signaled a step in the direction of the rest of the G7, increasing pressure on Japan to follow suit. 

At the end of the day, few countries have matched the United Kingdom’s strategy to quit coal—save perhaps Canada, which rapidly cut domestic consumption but remains a significant exporter. That the G7 is moving closer to these models, however incrementally, is a positive step. But there is no time to waste. 

Danny Cullenward

Senior Fellow
Danny Cullenward is a Kleinman Center Senior Fellow. He is a climate economist and lawyer, a Research Fellow with the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy, and the Vice Chair of California’s Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee.

The G7 Takes Great Strides on Climate. We Must Take It Further.

The G7 announcement of the phase out of coal by 2035 is a huge deal. In order to avert a catastrophic 1.5C (3F) warming of the planet, we must rapidly decarbonize the global economy, bringing carbon emissions down 50 percent by 2030 and to zero by 2050. While many claim it is too late to accomplish this feat, the primary obstacles are neither physical nor technological but remain political. This agreement by the world’s largest economies to rapidly phaseout coal—the most carbon intensive fossil fuel—suggests that willpower remains.

Of course, it’s one thing to make promises, and something else entirely to keep them. Whether or not the United States, the world’s largest legacy carbon polluter, is able to keep up its end of the bargain, depends on support from our elected policymakers. At a time when climate denial and dismissiveness is the official position of one of our two major parties, we have a stark choice before us in the upcoming U.S. election. We must turn out en masse and vote for politicians who will support people over polluters. Only then will a path remain to stabilizing planetary warming below catastrophic levels.

In the end, it still comes down to us. 

Michael Mann

Presidential Distinguished Professor
Michael E. Mann is the Presidential Distinguished Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, with a secondary appointment in the Annenberg School for Communication. He is a faculty fellow with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.

To Make G7 Commitments Effective, Large Economies Must Also Commit to a Phase Out

In order to avert catastrophic climate change, it is essential to phase out the use of coal, except perhaps in cases where burning it does not contribute to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. With that in mind, the recent pledge by the G7 to eliminate the use of unabated coal for power generation by the 2030s is a welcome contribution to global climate efforts. It builds on previous leadership by the G7 to reduce coal-related emissions, including the push to phase out financing for new coal-fired power plants overseas. Indeed, additional pledges in the communiqué promise to build on these previous efforts, including ending the approval of new unabated coal-fired power plants as soon as possible and to work with financial institutions to end support for new coal-fired power plants. These pledges are in keeping with the COP28 decision to phase out unabated fossil fuel use in the coming decades.

That being said, the impact of this specific pledge by the G7 will be limited unless it inspires similar action from a larger and broader group of countries, including China and other large economies. Both China and India, for example, have indicated that they have no plans to phase out coal in the near term, with India planning to continue substantial coal use for decades and China committing only to reducing coal use by 2030, not fully retiring it.

Scott Moore

Director of China Programs and Strategic Initiatives
Scott Moore is a former senior fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and the Director of China Programs and Strategic Initiatives. He is also a practice professor of political science.

Commitments Are a Start. We Must Do More and Do It Quickly.

The G7’s commitment to phase out unabated coal-fired power by 2035 is a long overdue step. Its success will be determined by some combination of still-unscaled carbon capture and storage technology, market factors, and energy governance reform.

But the world is badly off track in limiting warming to 1.5C, and time is running out to achieve this goal. The G7 needs to go further.

The United States provides both an example and a cautionary tale. The landmark Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law have jumpstarted domestic decarbonization. Last week, the EPA issued final carbon pollution standards for power plants that require existing coal plants—which provide 16 percent of U.S. electricity—and new gas plants to capture 90 percent of their carbon pollution.

Existing gas-fired power plants—which supply 43 percent of U.S. electricity—were untouched, and await further rulemaking. To have any chance of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, unabated gas plants must be quickly phased out as well. 

The same is true in the G7. On average, coal is the fourth-largest source of electricity generation at 15 percent. Natural gas provides the largest share at 34 percent.

The global challenge is even bigger. Coal-fired generation hit an all-time high in 2022, accounting for about 36 percent of total electricity generation. Gas-fired generation was not far behind, at more than 20 percent

Wealthy G7 member nations must follow through on their commitments on coal—and target gas next. To lead beyond their borders, they must also provide financial assistance to other nations to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and toward zero-carbon energy.

John Quigley

Senior Fellow, Kleinman Center
John Quigley is a senior fellow at the Kleinman Center and previously served on the Center’s Advisory Board. He served as Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection and of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

G7 Takes Action on Coal—But Only Offers Words on Phasing Out Russian Energy

The G7 Climate, Energy, and Environment Ministers’ Communiqué represents a groundbreaking commitment by the world’s leading industrialized nations to phase out existing unabated coal power production by 2035; this is in line with temperature rise limitation targets set forth in the Paris Climate Accords. Additionally, the communiqué took much-needed action to build out international climate finance architecture, further commitments on supporting a just energy transition, and took a long overdue step to establish a G7 working group in support of multinational cooperation on the fundamental high energy density physics research and development needed to realize fusion as an energy source.

Conspicuously missing from the communiqué were further tangible actions needed to properly target the energy sector of the Russian Federation in response to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. While included statements strongly condemned the ongoing strikes against Ukrainian civil energy infrastructure, the dangerous actions related to its occupation and militarization of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, and calls to reduce dependence on Russian natural gas, there were no corresponding actions taken against the Kremlin’s aggression in Ukraine.

Under peacetime circumstances, a G7 climate and energy statement would not include calls for military security assistance. However, that is precisely the sort of support that should have been announced in this format. Such a commitment would finally recognize that ensuring energy security in Ukraine means providing systems often unassociated with energy market functions—in this case military air defense systems to protect against physical attacks on civilian electricity grid infrastructure and thermal power plants across the country. The G7 has the economic capacity to do this, yet avoided an obvious step to ensure Ukrainian energy security and European security more broadly.

Likewise, an area of economic policy that the G7 can and should announce further action in—energy sanctions against Russian oil and gas exports—were again nowhere to be found. Most notably, there was no mention of increasing enforcement of the G7 price cap on Russian Urals crude oil, or lowering it from the $60/barrel level it has been at without change for the last 18 months. Such inaction will only do harm to undermine confidence in Western counter threat financing and sanctions programs globally, at the clear detriment to our collective security.

Benjamin Schmitt

Senior Fellow, Kleinman Center and SAS
Benjamin Schmitt is a joint senior fellow at the Kleinman Center and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Penn. He is also an affiliate of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and associate of the Harvard-Ukrainian Research Institute.

Committing to the Global Stocktake

The G7 communiqué echoes the top-line outcome of COP28 (The Global Stocktake) in two important ways that suggest a new international norm is being set. 

The first is that it commits to the emissions reduction timeline that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated is necessary to hold the global mean temperature increase as close to 1.5C as possible: 43 percent CO2 reduction by 2030, 60 percent by 2035, and net zero by 2050. These numbers have long been part of the scientific discussion but are highly significant to see in a political context and reflect the leadership shown by the Alliance of Small Island States, who advocated throughout 2023 for these specific targets. As part of the team who drafted the alliance’s language and messaging on this topic, I know firsthand how much work and care many people put into making these targets both politically palatable and substantively meaningful.

Second, with this communiqué, the G7 leaders have declared that the era of fossil fuels is over. This was made clear in statements at COP and is echoed again here. For example, at COP28 then-U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry told a story about a conversation he once had with a Saudi oil minister who said to him “the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, and the oil age is not going to end because we run out of oil.” That message is also on display in this communiqué. 

So, while there are criticisms to be made of this communiqué and that it needs to go further in addressing the climate crisis, it is important not to miss the strength of the political message: echoing what was decided at COP is part of setting new norms.

Michael Weisberg

Interim Director, Perry World House
Michael Weisberg is interim director of Perry World House, as well as Bess W. Heyman President’s Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.