By Lisa Friedman
November 3, 2017 - The Trump administration will promote coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as an answer to climate change at a presentation during a United Nations global warming conference this month, the White House confirmed Thursday.
The program is billed as a discussion of how American energy resources, particularly fossil fuels, can help poor countries meet electricity needs and drive down greenhouse gas emissions. Entitled “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation,” it will feature speakers from Peabody Energy, a coal company; NuScale Power, a nuclear engineering firm; and Tellurian, a liquefied natural gas exporter.
“As the world seeks to reduce emissions while promoting economic prosperity, fossil fuels will continue to play a central role in the energy mix,” a preview of the Nov. 13 presentation says.
The program is likely to provoke strong reactions at the United Nations conference gathering in Bonn, Germany, beginning on Monday for two weeks of negotiations on ways to keep rising global temperatures from reaching catastrophic levels. Most climate experts contend that the world must shift from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives to meet emissions targets. Nuclear power, which does not produce earth-warming emissions, is viewed with skepticism by many environmental activists, who say its dangers outweigh its benefits.
No major funding announcements are expected during the event. Delegates from 195 countries will gather in Bonn from Nov. 6-17 to work on a “rule book” for implementation of the Paris agreement.
According to new figures put out by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal production has risen since President Trump took office — a fact Mr. Trump highlighted late Tuesday in a tweet.
President Trump has vowed to withdraw from the Paris agreement, calling it “a deal that punishes the United States.” But under the rules of the deal, the United States cannot actually withdraw until 2020. Until then, the administration has said, it will continue to work toward bringing the Paris agreement into force.
Barry K. Worthington, executive director of the United States Energy Association, who will speak on the panel, said he hoped to deliver a dose of reality about the future of fossil fuels at a forum dominated by activists demanding the end of coal, oil and gas. He argued “no credible projection” shows fossil fuels meeting less than 40 percent of global energy demand by midcentury.
Mr. Worthington said he expected that delivering that message before climate change activists would be a “horrible experience” but it is important for many to hear.
“The reality of it is the world is going to continue to use fossil fuels,’’ he said, “and if I can throw myself on the hand grenade to help people realize that, I’m willing to do it.”
George David Banks, special assistant to President Trump for international energy and environment, will give introductory remarks and Francis Brooke, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, will moderate the discussion among industry executives.
“This discussion is a follow-up to the Administration’s success at the G20, where the United States expressed its support for helping countries meet their climate objectives through the use of cleaner and more efficient fossil fuels and other clean energy sources and technologies,” a White House spokesman, Raj Shah, said in a statement. “It is undeniable that fossil fuels will be used for the foreseeable future, and it is in everyone’s interest that they be efficient and clean. Through innovation, the United States continues to be a global leader in cutting carbon emissions.”
The administration’s emphasis on fossil fuels represents a sharp break from the Obama administration, which focused almost exclusively on ways America can promote renewable energy abroad. Critics called it a poke in the eye of the international community.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a Democrat. “After forfeiting international leadership on climate, the Trump White House is compounding their error with a silly stunt. Fossil fuel companies are not clean energy companies, and no amount of spin will change that.”
Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, who helps advise the least developed countries in the United Nations climate talks, said fossil fuels were hurting, not helping, the world’s poorest nations.
“Any country or company continuing to champion further exploration for and mining of coal and even other fossil fuels from now on would be willfully carrying out a crime against humanity, and they would be held accountable,” he said.