Trump’s Efforts to Promote Coal at Climate Summit Draw Protests

The Trump administration’s bid to promote coal at a global climate conference was met with protesters who walked out of the event as panelists criticized the U.S. president’s decision to exit the landmark Paris deal.

More than 100 activists interrupted a panel discussion at the event in Bonn Monday, singing an anti-coal song to the tune of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” before walking out of the room. The protest came moments after White House climate adviser George David Banks extolled the virtues of coal-fired power to ensure “universal access” to electricity.

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement has overshadowed the annual United Nations climate change talks. An army of executives, governors, mayors and activists met Saturday to discuss ways of meeting the U.S.’s climate targets without federal support, while protesters decry the government’s environmental policies.

“It’s like arguing with people who claim the world is flat,” said Jean Su, associate conservation director at the Tucson, Arizona-based environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, who was one of the protesters who walked out of the discussion.

Trump’s increasingly isolated position was highlighted again Monday when some panelists said the U.S. should remain in the pact. Holly Krutka, vice president of coal generation and emissions technologies at coal provider Peabody Energy Corp., said she would have joined the protesters a few years ago, while Amos Hochstein, a senior vice president of marketing at Tellurian Inc. said he supported the U.S. remaining in the Paris deal.

Banks, who kicked off the panel discussion, had argued in favor of remaining in the Paris agreement as Trump deliberated earlier this year. He declined to discuss his personal views on Monday.

Diverging Views

Not all the panelists wanted the U.S. to remain. Barry Worthington, executive director of the U.S. Energy Association, and head of the Clean Electricity Production working group within the UNECE Committee on Sustainable Energy, said an “anti-fossil-fuel bias” pervades financial companies, and backed Trump’s decision to leave the climate agreement.

At a recent meeting in Geneva, UN advisers began drawing up recommendations for development banks to support fossil-fuel projects with the potential to lower emissions — including carbon-capture and storage and liquefied natural gas ventures. Worthington said the effort — which may lead to recommendations next month — could spur commercial banks to step back in as well. 

Even as the world transitions to renewable energy, experts expect fossil fuels will continue to play a role in the energy mix, and technologies like carbon capture and atomic energy will be key to meeting the Paris climate goals to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius, according to UN backed scientists.

“We believe there is a rational way forward that does not force countries to choose between mitigation, development and energy security,” Banks said during the event.

Some panelists also criticized the protesters for refusing to debate the need for cleaner fossil fuels.

“We have to stop siloing ourselves into communities where we talk to ourselves,” said Hochstein, who was previously a special envoy for President Barack Obama. “We are only going to be able to move forward if we actually have this kind of conversation” and listen to each other.

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