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G7 brings gas investments back in 'temporary' solution, to dismay of climate activists

By Katya Golubkova and Andreas Rinke

HIROSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) - The Group of Seven rich nations put support for gas investments back into their communique on Saturday, calling it a "temporary" step as they try to de-couple from Russian energy, in a move climate activists say may hurt climate goals.

The April meeting of G7 climate ministers eventually agreed, despite tussles between Japan and European nations, that gas investments "can be appropriate to help address potential market shortfalls" following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the disruption it has caused in global energy markets.

Saturday's G7 leaders statement at their summit in Japan's Hiroshima changed the language - eventually formulated by Germany, sources say - to include gas investments again, with the G7 saying it was "necessary to accelerate the phase-out of our dependency on Russian energy".

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"We stress the important role that increased deliveries of LNG (liquefied natural gas) can play, and acknowledge that investment in the sector can be appropriate in response to the current crisis and to address potential gas market shortfalls provoked by the crisis," the statement said.

The phase-out would also rely on "energy savings and gas demand reduction" in line with Paris climate goals and the acceleration of renewable energy development, the document said, calling clean energy a means of energy security.

"Faced with the urgent need to phase out fossil fuels, what leaders have brought to the table represents an endorsement of new fossil gas," Tracy Carty, Global Climate Politics Expert at Greenpeace International, said in a statement.

DEFENDING THE STANCE

German government officials rejected that criticism, saying investments are needed to get away from Russian gas and find a replacement.

"We also need some new gas power station, but they should be built in a way that they can run on green hydrogen later on as well. So it is an investment in the clean future as well," a German government official said.

Japan considers LNG as a transition fuel towards a greener economy and Germany, once Moscow's top gas buyer, has had to increase its investment in gas infrastructure after Russia's invasion of Ukraine led to cuts in supplies.

"In the exceptional circumstance of accelerating the phase out of our dependency on Russian energy, publicly supported investment in the gas sector can be appropriate as a temporary response," Saturday's communique said.

Without clarifying what "temporary" meant, the document said such investments should be in line with climate objectives and integrated into the development of low-carbon and renewable hydrogen.

The G7 pledged to achieve a net-zero emissions goal by 2050 and to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"We stick to our targets in 2030 and 2045. So if we burn more coal or gas now, we will have to produce less CO2 in the years to come," the German government official said.

Max Lawson, head of inequality policy at activist group Oxfam, said the G7 had maintained a loophole for new fossil gas investments using the Russian military conflict with Ukraine "as an excuse."

"They try to blame everyone else - they are far off track themselves to contribute their fair share of what is needed to meet this target," he said in a statement.

(Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Andreas Rinke; Additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Hugh Lawson)