Rather than presenting a strategy for meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration’s delegation to the United Nations’ climate conference in Bonn, Germany, is using the talks to promote the U.S. coal industry. At a U.S. government-sponsored event on Monday, for example, officials invited a top executive from St. Louis-headquartered coal giant Peabody Energy to help tout the benefits of burning coal in meeting the world’s energy needs.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who serves as the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for cities and climate change, said Monday that “promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit.”
Dave Banks, Trump’s special assistant for international energy and environment, countered that climate activists fail to understand world energy demand. “This panel is only controversial if we choose to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the realities of the global energy system,” Banks said.
Holly Krutka, vice president of coal generation and emissions technology at Peabody Energy, included a slide in her presentation that stated “coal remains an essential part” of the world’s energy mix. “The question and the discussion today needs to be not about if we will use coal, but how,” Krutka said. “And at Peabody, we are working to make it cleaner everyday through the deployment of technology.”
The phrase “clean coal” refers to expensive and mostly non-commercial technologies that reduce pollution and capture carbon dioxide when coal is burned. Even Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, the country’s largest privately held coal-mining company, doesn’t believe in that. “Carbon capture and sequestration does not work,” Murray said in July. “It is neither practical nor economic.”
At the climate talks, officially known as the 23rd United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, participating nations hope to hammer out the details of exactly how to implement the Paris agreement. The talks are taking place as the United States has ceded the world stage on climate action, an attitude typified by the Trump administration’s decision to officially announce its intent to withdraw from the agreement in June.
Climate protesters interrupted the panel discussion as Barry Worthington, executive director of the U.S. Energy Association, was emphasizing the importance of U.S. energy production. The protesters sang a rendition of “God Bless the USA” that pointed to fossil fuel executives as responsible for rolling back action on climate. During the interruption, attendees displayed a banner that said “We the People,” with “Fossil Fuel CEOs” crossed out.
Worthington defended Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, arguing that fossil fuel companies face financial pressures from government regulators and their shareholders. “We’re achieving the emissions reductions goals without having the regulatory burden” of the Paris agreement, he said.
Burning coal responsible for 41% of our global emissions. The largest single source world wide. Phasing out coal represents a massive opportunity and #ClimateAction
— Catherine McKenna 🇨🇦 (@cathmckenna) November 13, 2017
As the Trump administration held its event, Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister of Environment and Climate Change, tweeted that burning coal is “responsible for 41 percent of our global emissions” and that “phasing out coal represents a massive opportunity.”
In his statement issued Monday, Bloomberg said that half of all U.S. coal plants have been retired over the past six years, “thanks to market and community forces and leadership by cities and states.” That trend will continue no matter what happens in Washington, he added.
Last week, Bloomberg announced plans to donate $50 million to partners worldwide to fight coal plants and fund research into the effects of burning coal on public health. The European Climate Foundation will be the leading partner in Europe. In October, Bloomberg pledged an additional $64 million to support efforts by the Sierra Club and other groups to move the nation’s power sector off coal.
— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) November 13, 2017
Hundreds of cities and businesses, joined by a handful of states, promised to uphold the country’s commitments with or without the federal government. Those cities, states, and businesses — collectively called the We Are Still In coalition — are presenting a compilation of existing sub-national climate commitments to the United Nations at this year’s climate conference in Bonn. The coalition has opened a large tent pavilion outside a venue in Bonn.
Thanu Yakupitiyage of environmental group 350.org is coordinating a U.S. people’s delegation at the Bonn talks. “We stand as communities united against the Trump Administration’s fossil-fueled agenda. Despite the overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change, the Trump Administration continues to spread their lies even at these climate talks,” Yakupitiyage said in a statement Monday.
The U.S. People’s Delegation, including SustainUS, Sunrise Movement, 350.org, and other partners, is calling for a just transition to 100 percent renewables in all cities and states and a halt to all new fossil fuel projects.