US to defend fossil fuels at UN climate meeting

13 November 2017 - 17:13 By afp
U.S. President Donald Trump. File photo.
U.S. President Donald Trump. File photo.
Image: Jonathan Ernst

The White House will host an event defending fossil fuel use Monday at UN climate talks in Germany, in a move blasted by green energy campaigners and conference president Fiji.

The meeting will be addressed by President Donald Trump's special assistant on energy and environment, George David Banks, the US embassy in Berlin announced.

The Trump administration's hosting of the event - entitled "The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation" - is perceived as an affront by many attending the annual round of climate talks.

Hosted in Bonn this year, the negotiations are tasked with designing a nuts-and-bolts rulebook for executing the Paris Agreement adopted by nearly 200 countries in 2015.

Its goal is to limit average global warming to under two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), or 1.5 C if possible, so as to avert calamitous storms, drought and sea-level rise.

To global outrage, Trump announced in June he would pull the United States out of the hard-fought global pact, which aims to reduce reliance on coal, oil and natural gas.

Central role 

America is now the only country in the world that has opted to be outside the agreement.

"As the world seeks to reduce emissions while promoting economic prosperity, fossil fuels will continue to play a central role in the energy mix," the embassy statement said on Monday.

"Given the importance of energy access and security... the United States endeavours to continue working closely with others to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently."

Francis Brooke from the office of vice president Mike Pence will also attend Monday's "side event", along with Barry Worthington, executive director of the US Energy Association which gathers corporations and government agencies.

From the private sector, the attendance list includes executives of gas giant Tellurian, the world's largest private coal company, Peabody, and nuclear company NuScale Power.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, which presides over this year's UN climate conference, said the role of coal in climate change was undisputable.

"I really don't want to get into an argument with the United States of America, but we all know what coal does, and the effects of coal mining and of course the burning of coal," he told journalists on Sunday.

"There's really no need to talk anymore about coal because we all know what coal does with regard to climate change."

'A slap in the face' 

Karen Orenstein of environmental group Friends of the Earth described the event as "a slap in the face to countries that are party to the Paris Agreement -- literally every nation on Earth except the United States".

Trump's actions, she added, showed "callous disregard -- and possibly even genuine malevolence -- toward people in poor countries whose lives and livelihoods have been threatened, diminished, and in some cases destroyed by the devastating effects of climate change".

Piers Forster, a climate change professor at the University of Leeds, insisted there was no such thing as "clean coal".

"Coal is not clean -- it is dangerous," he said via the Science Media Centre in London.

New data showed that China and the US together emitted about 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from coal burning, a number that needs to "rapidly reduce" for any chance at reaching the 1.5 C target, he said.

"Currently, less than 0.1 percent of these carbon emissions from coal are captured and stored. Those who argue coal has a future are putting the planet under real risk."

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