Trump administration touts fossil fuels at COP-24 U.N. climate summit in Katowice, Poland

Trump administration touts fossil fuels at COP-24 U.N. climate summit in Katowice, Poland

  07 Dec 2018

KATOWICE, Poland — President Trump may be pulling the United States out of the global Paris Accord on global warming, but the administration is making a hard sell for its side of the story at the giant U.N. climate summit now underway in the heart of Poland’s coal-producing region.

With delegates from rich and poor nations struggling to reach a consensus on writing the rule book for reducing emissions and battling climate change, U.S. officials and private-sector representatives are organizing a major side event Monday on the continued role of fossil fuels and nuclear power. The presentation is similar to one a year ago that angered many green groups that have clustered here.

Energy Department official Wells Griffith III will lead the event, billed as a showcase of “ways to use fossil fuels as cleanly and efficiently as possible,” along with nuclear energy.

An event at last year’s gathering in Germany, led by then White House energy adviser George David Banks, drew a protest from environmental groups. Protesters stood in the audience while singing and waving placards.

Mr. Banks told The Washington Times that many of those advocating an end to fossil fuels “do not understand the political reality facing much of the world.”

COP-24, as this year’s summit is officially known, has attracted more than 30,000 delegates from 196 countries but fewer heads of state than other years.

The State Department says the Trump administration has sent a 40-plus-member delegation to Katowice “to protect U.S. economic and other interests and ensure a level playing field for American business and workers.” Veteran diplomat Judy Garber, a former ambassador to Latvia recently nominated to be ambassador to Cyprus, is serving as the chief U.S. negotiator.

In announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement last year, Mr. Trump has said he is open to rejoining the Paris treaty if terms are altered to make it “more favorable to the American people.” The violent protests that have rocked France in reaction to President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed gas tax to reduce carbon emissions this week have proved an ill-timed blow to those who criticized the U.S. withdrawal.

A sticking point at the Polish gathering has been a proposed fund of $100 billion per year, financed by developed countries to help poorer nations adjust to climate change. Thus far, little money has come forward.

Difficult position

Even as climate studies point to a continuing rise in global temperatures and more extreme weather patterns, U.S. officials say trends in global energy since the 2015 Paris deal was signed only reinforced Mr. Trump’s arguments that the top-down, U.N.-led process has serious flaws that handicap the U.S. economy while going easy on major polluters such as China and India.

Mr. Banks said a dependence on Russian gas put Eastern European countries in a difficult position. Relying on a local power source may be the only realistic option for many.

“Look at what has happened in Ukraine with the Russian annexation of Crimea and you realize how important it is for the region to have its own power supply,” he said. “In Poland, it comes from coal. Others use nuclear, but they must have baseload power to cope with a very cold climate. And it must be under their control.”

He said more than 600 million people in Africa lived without access to the grid. “The U.S. rightly sees that as a security issue because, without power, there can be no industry and few jobs, and this is a factor in driving young people to join militia and terror groups.”

Mr. Banks, who will travel to Poland for the final week of the climate summit, argued that “Washington has a message that is not in any way anti-environment.”

“Quite the opposite,” he said. “Across Africa and Asia, a lack of electricity is the reason people cut down trees for firewood. More energy is good for the planet, but it should be done cleanly. This includes wind and solar, but also nuclear and the new science of clean coal.”

Mr. Banks said he was looking forward to discussions with other countries on sharing technology to use fossil fuel more cleanly. “We are not alone in this and need to engage with India, Japan, Australia and anyone else.”

Ironically, the U.N. gathering that is largely seen as hostile to a future of fossil-fuel-based energy is taking place in a bastion of coal production in the heart of Poland. Many local residents say the idea of switching to an alternative fuel would devastate the local economy and undermine the local culture. Poland relies on coal for about 80 percent of its energy needs.

At the Polish stand at the summit, Katowice Mayor Marcin Krupa posed for photos in front of a column of coal taken from mines near the town and defended his region’s most valuable natural resource.

“Coal may be black, but that doesn’t mean we are not green,” he said. “That’s our theme: ‘Black to green.’ Mining and industry fund this region, and we use that money to create parks and forests.”

He said he hoped the meeting would draw attention to Katowice and attract investors. From a low base when Russian troops withdrew in 1992, Poland is now the eighth largest economy in Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin declined to attend. Mr. Macron’s scheduled address earlier this week was scrubbed as he dealt with the fuel tax crisis back home.

While U.S. officials are making their pitch, President Trump could not resist a dig at Mr. Macron’s political woes.

“I am glad that my friend @EmmanuelMacron and the protesters in Paris have agreed with the conclusion I reached two years ago,” he tweeted Wednesday. “The Paris Agreement is fatally flawed because it raises the price of energy for responsible countries while whitewashing some of the worst polluters in the world.”

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