The Trump Administration Pitched Coal at a Climate Change Conference

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The Trump Administration took its pitch for fossil fuels to the heart of international efforts to stem global warming on Monday hosting an event featuring coal and natural gas executives on the sidelines of an annual United Nations climate conference held this year in Germany.

As negotiators from around the globe worked constructively to iron out the details of the Paris Agreement in Bonn, the Trump White House pitched coal and other fossil fuels, the source of emissions that cause climate change, as a solution to global warming.

“Without a question fossil fuels will continue to be used,” said Trump advisor George David Banks of the National Economic Council at the outset of the panel. “We would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure that when fossil fuels are used it as clean and efficient as possible.”

For more than two decades diplomats, scientists and policymakers from around the globe have gathered once a year to discuss how best to address the challenge of man-made climate change. This primary aim of this conference — known formally as the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — was to craft rules to guide implementation of the Paris Agreement.

On the surface, the Trump Administration’s message is not entirely inconsistent with some policymakers focused on the energy transition. Credible projections show fossil fuels remaining a significant part of the energy mix in the coming decades and pushing them to emit less is undeniably a positive step in that direction. President Obama’s White House often cited natural gas as a “bridge fuel” that would help ease the world away from coal before renewables like wind and solar could achieve widespread adoption.

But the message likely fell on deaf ears because the Trump Administration carries little credibility abroad on climate change. Before taking office, Trump called climate change a hoax and since becoming president he has launched an all out assault on his predecessor’s regulations addressing the issue. He has also promised to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change — a landmark agreement reached in 2015 that provides an international framework reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Protesters interrupted the White House presentation with an adapted rendition of “Proud to Be an American” that continued uninterrupted for several minutes. “So you claim to be an American, but we see right through your greed,” they sang.

Even if negotiators at the conference looked past Trump’s history of climate change denial, the inclusion of coal in the pitch further undermined the administration’s credibility. Coal contributes more to climate change on a pound per pound basis than any other common energy source and climate scientists widely agree that phasing it out represents a crucial and urgent step to stave off the worst effects of global warming.

“Don’t listen to arsonists on how to fight fire,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in an impromptu appearance in Bonn before the U.S. presentation. “This is a sideshow. It is a blip. The world is not paying any attention to it.”

Indeed, Inslee and a slew of other U.S. politicians — including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, California Gov. Jerry Brown and former Vice President Al Gore — gathered in Germany and took the spotlight over the weekend as they promised to redouble their efforts in the face of federal inaction.

The states and cities that remain committed to addressing climate change have formed several formal alliances to show the international community a unified front. On Saturday, a group led by Brown and Bloomberg released a report — known as America’s Pledge — that promised to quantity the scale of those commitments which range from transitioning state power grids away from fossil fuels to pushing for the adoption of electric vehicles.

“We are not trying to replace the U.S. State Department,” says Dan Firger of Bloomberg Philanthropies’s environment program. “Instead we’re trying to communicate to the rest of the word the range of action … we’ve been forced to make some lemonade out of lemons.”

But, despite open-armed acceptance at the conference, even the report acknowledges that “given the stated policies of the present U.S. administration, currently committed non-federal efforts are not sufficient to meet the U.S. commitment under the Paris Agreement.” Restoring the U.S. position at the table might take an election.

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