Youth leaders disrupt controversial US fossil fuel panel at UN climate talks

COP24: Anger as US delegates tell summit fossil fuels can help fight global warming

'It’s ludicrous for Trump officials to claim that they want to clean up fossil fuels, while dismantling standards that would do just that'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Monday 10 December 2018 17:24

The Trump administration has held an event at a major UN climate summit to promote the use of fossil fuels in the fight against global warming.

Branded “laughable” by critics, the news comes after the US allied with other oil states included Russia and Saudi Arabia to stop a key scientific report influencing proceedings at the COP24 event in Poland.

The side event, which featured representatives from the US government and energy industry, saw panellists insist so-called “clean” fossil fuels had a role to play in tackling global warming.

Their presentations suggested innovation and investment in these energy sources would not only make them more competitive, but significantly decrease emissions as well.

Proceedings were interrupted by activists infuriated by the administration’s continued focus on polluting fuels.

The overwhelming majority of qualified experts agree that coal, oil and gas must be rapidly and completely phased out if the world is to stand a chance of meeting its ambitious climate targets and avoid catastrophic environmental consequences.

According to the US State Department, the event was intended to “showcase ways to use fossil fuels as cleanly and efficiently as possible, as well as the use of emission-free nuclear energy”.

This marks the second year in a row the US government has tried to promote fossil fuels at a UN climate event.

While the event was meant to focus on “clean” fossil fuels, Donald Trump has made clear his enthusiasm for coal, the dirtiest variety available, very clear.

Even as coal consumption has fallen in the US, the president has attempted to reverse this trend by announcing a rollback of Obama-era standards that would make building new plants easier.

“It’s ludicrous for Trump officials to claim that they want to clean up fossil fuels, while dismantling standards that would do just that,” said Dan Lashof, director of the World Resources Institute.

“Since taking office, this administration has proposed to roll back measures to cut methane leaks from oil and gas operations, made it easier for companies to dump coal ash into drinking water, and just days ago proposed easing carbon pollution rules for new coal-fired power plants.

“This sideshow in Poland would be laughable if the consequences of climate change weren’t so deadly serious.”

Rachel Cleetus, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, said considering the urgent warnings to cut emissions, the Trump administration’s ongoing promotion of coal “stands in stark contrast with this climate reality”.

“Instead of feeding an addiction to fossil fuels to line the pockets of coal company executives, the US should be leading the world in transitioning towards low-carbon energy sources, driving innovation, prosperity and a healthier future for all,” she said.

Many nations, including the UK, have already committed to phasing out coal completely over the next few years due to its disproportionate contribution to carbon emissions.

The US, on the other hand, has announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, but sent a small delegation to Poland since it is still officially a member.

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Around 100 activists including Indigenous and youth leaders disrupted the start of the event, chanting “keep it in the ground” in referencing to ending fossil fuel extraction.

Aneesa Khan, a youth delegation leader from campaign group SustainUS who was among the protesters, called the US-sponsored event “a joke”.

“The US elite has profited off fossil fuels for decades. It’s time for them to pay up and support to the world transition away from dirty energy,” she said.

As the controversial event kicked off, global investors managing $32tn (£25tn) in assets called for a total end to coal as a source of energy, and greater action from world leaders on climate change.

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