Environment & Energy Report

Promoting Coal at Climate Talks Seen as Unscientific U.S. Sideshow

Dec. 7, 2018, 4:12 PM

U.S. officials will declare on the world stage Dec. 10 that “job-creating innovations” will ensure that fossil fuels can continue to be burned while allowing greenhouse gas emissions to decline, the U.S. State Department told Bloomberg Environment.

The Trump administration is expected to use the international climate talks to emphasize its pro-fossil fuels agenda and continue its snub of the Paris climate agreement by sending the opposite message on fossil fuels—that coal and natural gas have a bright future.

The U.S. will promote fossil fuels at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Katowice, Poland, where officials and scientists are warning the world that burning fossil fuels is quickly creating an urgent and deadly crisis for humanity.

The pro-coal event isn’t expected to be taken seriously by most countries at COP24, observer groups say. It is likely to be a repeat of a similar event the U.S. threw at the 2017 climate talks in Bonn after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. intent to withdraw from the Paris pact.

“Fossil fuels will continue to be used across the globe for decades to come. The side event will showcase ways to use fossil fuels as cleanly and efficiently as possible, as well as the use of emission-free nuclear energy,” the State Department said in a Dec. 6 statement emailed to Bloomberg Environment.

“The United States side event at COP24 will feature U.S. government and industry speakers and will focus on the remarkable progress we have made through innovation for cleaner technologies,” the statement said.

Bloomberg Environment couldn’t confirm the full list of speakers at the event, but Rich Powell, executive director of the ClearPath Foundation will speak, spokesman Darren Goode said. ClearPath advocates for nuclear power and “clean” coal.

‘Provocative’ Move

The U.S.-sponsored event is expected to be seen at COP24 as “provocative” and entirely incompatible with most countries’ climate agenda, Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg Environment.

“It’s kind of more of the same, like: ‘We don’t believe in this science or the urgency of addressing the issue and we’re going to come here and kind of hawk our wares and export our technologies to the rest of the world,’” Meyer said.

The likely consequences of the event are unclear, David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative in Washington, told Bloomberg Environment. “They’re framing it in terms of innovation and clean energy, which comes off as highly ironic given all that they’re doing to undercut clean energy at home.”

The European Union sees the U.S. stance is flying in the face of all the established science used as the basis of the Paris agreement.

“Countries can chart their own pathways,” Yvon Slingenberg, a director in the Director-General for Climate Action’s office at the European Commission, told Bloomberg Environment at the climate talks. “If you set your long-term goal and you look backwards, what role can coal play there? It’s clear that coal will have to be phased out.”

The European Union looks at “how to move away from fossil fuels and not to promote them,” Slingenberg said.

Urgent Context

United Nations scientific reports, including a report published in October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, say the science of climate change is clear: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use must begin declining rapidly before 2030 in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

At the same time, the reports say countries’ commitments to cut carbon dioxide pollution under the 2015 Paris climate agreement are insufficient to avoid the rising seas, extreme heat, severe storms, instability in the global food supply, and spread of disease expected to be seen all over the world as the planet warms.

In order to meet the most ambitious target of the Paris agreement, wind and solar power must become 25 percent of the globe’s electric power supply by 2020 and about 75 percent by 2050, Joeri Rogelj, a co-author of the IPCC report and a climate change lecturer at Imperial College London, told Bloomberg Environment at COP24.

The key to meeting that climate target is a “deeply integrated zero-carbon energy system” that uses solar, hydropower, batteries, energy storage systems, and other renewables, Evelina Trutnevyte, a renewable energy systems professor at the University of Geneva, said at the event.

‘Dire’ Economics

The administration’s support for coal—whether it’s called clean or not—contradicts scientific research that shows global economies must begin weaning themselves off fossil fuels to meet the targets of the Paris climate pact, Rogelj said.

“You cannot imagine a stronger contrast” between what the scientific evidence says should happen to coal and the Trump administration’s support for coal, Rogelj said.

“The only thing I can say is that, ultimately, economics will take over, and the economics are increasingly looking quite dire for coal,” Rogelj said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bobby Magill at bmagill@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloombergenvironment.com