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The G7 Climate Club

John Kirton, G7 Research Group
March 17, 2022

G7 leaders invented the world's first climate club, and the global governance of climate change as a whole, at their summit in 1979 in Tokyo, Japan (Kirton and Kokotsis 2015). There they produced the world's most ambitious targets and timetables, and helped produce the desired results of emissions reductions in the following few years. The visionary pioneer was the Social Democratic chancellor of Germany from Hamburg, Helmut Schmidt.

Since G7 leaders started making climate change commitments in Bonn in 1985, hosted by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, G7 summits have made 433 public, precise, future-oriented, collective commitments on climate change, and complied with them at an overall average of 74%. This compliance has been led by the European Union at 91%, the United Kingdom at 84%, Germany at 82% and Canada at 76%, followed below the average by Japan at 73%, France at 72%, the United States at 71% and Italy at 55%.

From 1998 to 2014, in a spirit of inclusiveness, the G7 added Russia to become the G8. During this time, Russian compliance averaged 58%. In a larger initiative for inclusiveness, the German-hosted Cologne Summit in 1999 authorized the creation of the G20, which started meeting at the summit level in 2008. Since then, G20 summits have made 116 commitments on climate change, for an average of six per summit. Members have complied with them at an average of 70%.

This inclusiveness did not create a more effective climate club. Indeed, compliance with the G20 climate commitments was led by the G7 members, all above average, with the UK at 86%, Germany at 84%, the EU at 84%, Canada and France at 81%, the US at 77% and Japan at 72%. The only non-G7 members to enter the top-tier were Australia at 82% and Korea at 75%, making an all-democratic club. The more inclusive G20 lifted Italy's compliance up from 55% to 68%, but Russia's rose from 58% to only 64%.

Other G7 efforts at inclusiveness, such as the G8+5 and the Major Economies Meeting, had similarly small performance-enhancing effects.

When Germany designed its plan to control climate change for the G7's Elmau Summit on June 26–28, 2022, it discovered the concept of a "climate club," identified a few desirable features, but left others to identify how it might work to actually reduce the greenhouse gas concentrations and thus global temperature increases to control the climate crisis the world confronts now. Openness and inclusiveness were key to its desired design.

Is it a useful contribution to suggest that the G7 itself and alone has been a permanent climate club that has proven its worth since 1979 or 1985, with the 433 commitments and 74% compliance it has already produced? If so, attention could be devoted to identifying how the G7 could design its own processes and craft its own commitments to improve compliance at the Elmau Summit itself in the next 14 weeks (Warren 2021; Kirton, Kokotsis and Warren 2022).

References

Kirton, John and Ella Kokotsis (2015). The Global Governance of Climate Change: G7, G20 and UN Leadership (Abingdon: Routledge).

Kirton, John, Ella Kokotsis and Brittaney Warren (2022). Reconfiguring the Global Governance of Climate Change (Abingdon: Routledge).

Warren, Brittaney (2021). G7 Performance on Climate Change. In John Kirton and Madeline Koch, eds., G7 UK: The 2021 Cornwall Summit (London: GT Media).

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