This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration cofounded by Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Jennifer Morgan is diplomatic but candid about this week’s G7 summit: It did not do enough to halt the climate emergency or address the horrifying spike in world hunger.
As the German government’s special envoy for international climate action, Morgan is the German equivalent to John Kerry, the Biden administration’s chief climate diplomat. But she came to her post in March after heading Greenpeace International for five years, and she knows full well how much needs to change—and how fast—to preserve a livable, equitable planet.
Some progress was made at the annual gathering of leaders of the world’s seven richest economies (excluding China), Morgan said in an interview with The Nation and the global media collaboration Covering Climate Now, but “clearly, in this moment of time, I think we all know that more action is needed across the board.”
When the G7 leaders met on June 26 to 28, the German hosts were determined to keep advancing climate action despite the “horrific” war in Ukraine, Morgan said. Germany also wanted a strengthened response to the doubling during the past two years of the number of people on the brink of starvation to an estimated 323 million, many of them women and children. The G7’s decisions, as reflected in the summit’s final communiqué, fell short on both counts.
Putting the best face on the situation, Morgan said it is “really important” that every G7 country committed to “strengthen” the emission reduction targets announced at the COP26 climate summit last November. The power sector, for instance, in each G7 economy will be “climate-neutral by 2035.” The G7 also pledged to mobilize $600 billion in public and private funds for Just Energy Transition Partnerships to help India, Indonesia, and other low-income countries leave coal behind in favor of renewable energy and energy efficiency.
More than once, however, Morgan declined to endorse what G7 leaders had decided.
“As someone who lives and breathes climate, that’s not a decision that I would have made,” she said regarding one of the summit’s most criticized decisions: allowing more liquid natural gas terminals and other fossil fuel infrastructure to be built. Such new infrastructure was justified as necessary for offsetting European countries’ phase-out of gas imports from Russia. Climate activists countered that deploying heat pumps and boosting energy efficiency is a better approach. Morgan herself noted that building fossil fuel infrastructure is incompatible with limiting temperature rise to 1.5 C, according to the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency.
Yet Morgan emphasized that under the G7’s updated plan any new fossil fuel infrastructure will only be allowed under very limited conditions: It must be compatible with the 1.5º C goal, and it cannot “lock in” long-term emissions. Asked how the latter condition can be met without making such infrastructure a stranded asset, Morgan replied that that is a challenge any potential investors must “figure out.” Many won’t bother, she suggested. Investors see that the world “is moving into renewables and energy efficiency,” she argued, and are unlikely to risk massive investments in fossil fuel infrastructure that can only yield a profit after decades of operation.
“It’s hard” being in government, Morgan said, but she has no regrets about leaving her activist past. “When you’re in government, you have to make decisions that balance many different things. What we’re trying to do is make sure that climate is a top thing, a top priority. But that’s different than advocating from the outside, where you don’t have to take into account those other factors.”
Her erstwhile civil society colleagues were especially critical of the G7’s decision to allocate only $4.5 billion to help starving people.
“Faced with the worst hunger crisis in a generation, the G7 have simply failed to take the action that is needed,” said Max Lawson, the head of inequality policy at Oxfam International. “Many millions will face terrible hunger and starvation as a result…. The G7 say themselves that 323 million people are on the brink of starvation, because of the current crisis, a new record high. Nearly a billion people, 950 million, are projected to be hungry in 2022. We need at least $28.5 billion more from the G7 to finance food and agriculture investments to end hunger and fill the huge gap in UN humanitarian appeals. The $4.5 billion announced is a fraction of what is needed.”
Oxfam’s statement also criticized the G7’s refusal to offer debt relief to poor countries—“For every dollar in aid given, poor countries have to pay back $2 dollars to their creditors, often banks in New York or London making huge profits”—as well as its failure to provide the $100 billion a year in climate aid to poor countries that is rich countries’ legal obligation under the Paris Agreement.
“I can completely understand the criticism, the frustration of countries, especially the most vulnerable countries on earth that are facing these [climate] impacts faster and harder than scientists thought they were going to occur,” Morgan said. “And I think it’s quite clear that the G7 and all developed countries have a real commitment to meet that goal.” She added, “Germany is doing everything we can to be supporting financially through the World Food Program and to working very actively to get the grain out of Ukraine forward into countries, so they have that. That is a top priority of my minister right now.”
An American by birth and education, Morgan emphasized that limiting temperature rise to 1.5º C will be impossible if the United States does not sharply limit its own emissions and provide the financial help developing countries need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Speaking a day before the US Supreme Court’s gutting of the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, Morgan added that Germany is taking strong action because climate survival requires it, but also because “our companies see a real competitive advantage” in getting out front on the emerging green economy.
“US players are going to lose out,” Morgan warned, adding that the US also will be less able to exert leadership on the global stage if it doesn’t have a credible climate agenda. “For all those reasons, I hope that the United States steps into this space.”