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US defends fossil fuels at UN climate meeting

Nov 14. 2017
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By Agence France-Presse

US officials mounted a spirited defence of fossil fuels Monday at UN climate talks in Germany, to a chorus of protest from green energy campaigners and other participants.

Members of President Donald Trump's administration and energy company representatives jointly hosted a controversial "side event" at the UN meeting, where they argued that coal and natural gas are here to stay, at least for a while.

"Without a question, fossil fuels will continue to be used," George David Banks, a special energy and environment assistant to Trump, told the event -- citing projections of the International Energy Agency.

Faced with this reality, "we would argue that it's in the global interest to make sure that when fossil fuels are used, that it's as clean and efficient as possible," he insisted.

Flanked by Francis Brooke from the office of Vice President Mike Pence, and senior representatives of American energy companies, Banks addressed a packed room where protesters intermittently broke out in shouts of "you're liars!" and "there's no clean coal!".

The event, the only one hosted by the United States at this year's round of climate negotiations, was entitled: "The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation".

'We see your greed'

People had queued for more than an hour to get into the meeting, and more were turned away than could fit into the venue.

As the presentations got under way, protesters gathered outside the doors with raised fists, shouting "leave it in the ground!" in reference to fossil fuels.

Inside irate activists interrupted a presentation by Barry Worthington, executive director of the US Energy Association which gathers corporations and government agencies.

"We see right through your greed," they chanted, over and over again. "It's killing all across the world for that coal money."

The US-hosted event was perceived as an affront by many attending the Bonn conference, where envoys are working on a nuts-and-bolts rulebook for executing the climate-rescue 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 blamed for altering Earth's climate.

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

'Slap in the face'

Banks said honouring former president Barack Obama's Paris Agreement pledge to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 would have cost a "significant number of jobs" and "meant damaging US competitiveness".

But Karen Orenstein of environmental group Friends of the Earth described the US event as "a slap in the face to countries that are party to the Paris Agreement."

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".

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, UN special envoy for cities and climate change, tweeted: "Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit."

And Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, which presides over this year's climate conference, said: "There's really no need to talk any more about coal because we all know what coal does with regard to climate change."

Also at Monday's event were representatives of gas giant Tellurian, the world's largest private coal company, Peabody, and nuclear company NuScale Power.

Piers Forster, a climate change professor at the University of Leeds, insisted there was not really such a thing as "clean coal" -- a term used for power plants that pollute less or whose emissions are "captured" before they reach the atmosphere.

"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," he said.

But Worthington insisted that "fossil and nuclear are still dominant", and Banks said cleaner fossil fuel energy has a role to play in mitigating climate change.

"We are not suggesting that fossil fuels are the only way forward," he said.

"However, we need the breakthrough technologies in storage and transmission for renewables, innovation that allows renewables to become truly competitive...

"Before that innovation is realised, the idea that the world can somehow meet ambitious mitigation goals, support development in poor countries the way we should, and ensure energy access by only deploying solar and wind (energy) is naive."

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