World leaders announce goal of fossil fuel freedom by 2100 at UN Climate Change conference

Living on Earth
Coal power plant

Coal power plants like this one in Michigan could become relics if government officials follow through on a committment to go fossil fuel free by 2100.

Michael P. Kube-McDowell/Wikimedia Commons

Seven leading democratic nations have announced their goal to make the world fossil fuel free by the end of this century.

The news came at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany held earlier this month. The G7 leaders, including those from historically reluctant Japan and Canada, agreed to call for a full decarbonization of the world’s economy by 2100.

“I think the G7 signal that we need to decarbonize the world’s economy in the coming decades is very significant,” says climate policy expert Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute. “I think it caught many by surprise, including myself, that they were able to pull this off.”

Morgan attributes the success to a variety of factors, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal commitment to the subject. “She put the toughest issues on the G7 agenda,” explains Morgan. “I think that she and President Obama worked very closely together with President Hollande [of France], so you do have a group of countries that do understand the risks and the need to send this kind of signal to investors around the world.”

Merkel has been absent on the international climate stage for the past several years, says Morgan, who suggests this was the opportunity for the chancellor to become re-engaged with the issues. Merkel is “an extremely committed scientist on all of this, and her negotiating skills clearly are quite good,” notes Morgan.

Other countries with impressive climate change action plans include the United States and Gabon, says Morgan. The US “has that 80 percent long-term target, so, not far off from what the G7 is advocating for, and it uses all the levers that the administrative executive branch has to reduce emissions in all the key sectors,” she says. Gabon, the first African country to table a national plan, focuses more on renewables and efficiency.

But whatever the method, Morgan says “it is really important to see that all countries are figuring out what they can do to help save the planet from global warming.”

This story is based on an interview from PRI's Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.