Protests and boos greeted a controversial U.S. side event promoting fossil fuels at the ongoing annual U.N. climate conference, COP24, on Monday morning in Poland. The event comes two days after the United States joined oil-rich nations in refusing to welcome a dire U.N. climate report released in October.
Trump administration officials and businesses leaders fleshed out U.S. support for an “energy mix” consisting of renewables and fossil fuels alike during Monday’s event.
Entitled “U.S. Innovative Technologies Spur Economic Dynamism,” the event offered a panel widely criticized by environmental advocates. While the annual U.N. climate conference held this year in Katowice is meant to address the world’s pressing climate crisis, the talks have largely been overshadowed by some nations’ show of support for fossil fuels, including the coal industry — which is dying in the United States.
That support ramped up on Monday during the U.S. panel, which presented fossil fuels as a critical component of the global economy while downplaying the environmental impact of such energy sources.
Trump administration officials speaking included Steve Winberg, assistant secretary at the department of energy, and Wells Griffith, senior director for energy at the National Security Council. Other panelists included a representative from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, along with speakers representing natural gas, fracking, and nuclear energy proponents.
Kicking off the event, Griffith heralded “America’s energy renaissance,” highlighting U.S. efforts in expanding fracking, natural gas, and crude oil exploration and extraction.
“If we are serious about eradicating poverty… it is clear that energy innovation and fossil fuels will continue to play a leading role,” said Griffith, as uproarious laughter broke out from the crowd, which consisted largely of activists and journalists. Research, however, has consistently shown that climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities across the world, including in the United States.
At the U.S. event, laughter quickly escalated as protestors disrupted the almost hour-and-a-half-long panel with chants of “Keep it in the ground!” Activists, many of them indigenous Americans who traveled to Poland for the conference, held up a banner bearing the same words. They were ultimately led away, shouting “Shame on you!” at the panelists, while the event’s livestream broadcast notably went quiet for several minutes.
The disruption reflected the sentiments of environmental organizations, who swiftly panned the U.S. event.
“Once again Trump’s team came to the U.N. climate summit to hawk dirty fossil fuels from the sidelines,” said Jean Su, energy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “The panel ignored the scientific reality that we need to rapidly transition to clean energy and instead promoted climate suicide.”
The side event was far from the only controversy at COP24. The climate talks come at a key moment for governments across the world and follow a string of recent climate reports.
The conference comes only two months after the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an ominous report projecting that the world only has around 12 years before crossing a dangerous global warming threshold.
A subsequent report released two weeks ago, the congressionally-mandated National Climate Assessment, found that every region of the United States is already suffering the impacts of climate change.
Additional findings by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Global Carbon Project, both released last week, revealed rising global carbon emissions despite increasingly grim climate projections.
For the United States, those findings were compounded by separate analysis showing that U.S. coal consumption is at its lowest rates in almost 40 years.
All of these reports are at odds with much of what has played out at COP24. Coal-reliant Poland, the European Union’s leading producer of hard coal, welcomed sponsorship for the conference from several coal companies. Coal soap, coal jewelry, and coal were all on display to greet COP24 attendees. And while Poland has received strident criticism from environmental advocates over its decision to elevate coal, the country isn’t alone.
President Donald Trump has made saving the coal industry and bolstering fossil fuels a core pillar of his presidency, something reflected in the U.S. side event on Monday. The president has also indicated he will exit the landmark Paris agreement, an approach that has bled over into U.S. approaches to international climate relationships more broadly. On Saturday, the Trump administration notably allied with Russia and joined Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in watering down language affirming the IPCC report.
In a debate that reportedly lasted for two and a half hours, Trump officials sided with oil powers in rejecting a motion to “welcome” the sweeping climate report. Instead, they argued it should merely be “noted.” Unable to reach a consensus, the argument has now stalled without resolution.
In a statement, the U.S. State Department also indicated it would be unwilling to budge on the issue.
“The United States was willing to note the report and express appreciation to the scientists who developed it, but not to welcome it, as that would denote endorsement of the report,” the department said. “As we have made clear in the IPCC and other bodies, the United States has not endorsed the findings of the report.”
With COP24 set to wrap on Friday, climate observers have indicated they are concerned that such resistance could throw a wrench in international efforts to ramp up global emissions targets.