Trump officials defend fossil fuels, nuclear power at UN climate conference
The White House and energy industry officials on Monday defended the Trump administration’s support for fossil fuels and nuclear power at a United Nations (U.N.) climate change conference.
A group of officials, led by Trump’s chief energy and environment assistant, told attendees at the Bonn, Germany, conference that nuclear power and fossil fuel technologies designed to capture carbon emissions are essential to the global energy sector, even as it pushes to tackle climate change.
A message focused on the use of fossil fuels and expensive nuclear power is out of step with the underlying themes of the U.N. conference, which is focused on greening the energy sector and reaching the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Paris climate deal.
But George David Banks, President Trump’s special assistant for international energy and the environment, contended the globe can’t effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions while growing electricity access without relying on traditionally large sources of power.
“This panel is only controversial if we choose to bury our head in the sand and choose to ignore the realities of the global energy system,” Banks said at the COP23 climate event.
“The significant cuts in emissions envisioned by the framework and by the Paris agreement require advanced technologies, including [carbon capture and sequestration],” he said, noting technology designed to cut carbon emissions at power plants.
“The math otherwise does not work, no matter how much we want it to.”
The White House’s presentation comes as the Trump administration prepares to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal, an international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Trump does not believe the scientific consensus behind human-caused climate change, and has instead pledged to help the American fossil fuel sector as president. His approach to climate issues has created deep skepticism on the global stage.
Democrats — including senators and governors — traveled to Bonn this week to make the case that states and the private sector are committed to the Paris deal despite the Trump administration’s approach to the issue.
But Banks argued that the administration would remain active in international efforts to overhaul the energy sector, even with its focus on fossil fuels and nuclear power.
“The United States will truly support an ‘all of the above’ approach and maintain a leadership role in innovation on all energy fronts,” he said.
“All this is to say we believe that there is a rational way forward that does not force countries to choose between mitigation and development and energy security. … This is the U.S.’s vision for a balanced approach.”
The United States’s panel discussion — the Trump administration’s only official event of the 11-day climate conference — was a tense one, with questions from the audience ranging from fossil fuel financing to a Trump tweet alleging climate change is a Chinese hoax.
Banks sat alongside fossil fuel and nuclear industry officials — as well as a former Obama administration State Department diplomat — for the U.S.’s presentation. At one point, a large group of protesters interrupted the event for about five minutes, singing a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” rewritten with anti-coal lyrics.
Amos Hochstein, an Obama administration energy diplomat who currently works for a natural gas firm, at one point admonished protesters to listen to the U.S.’s position.
“If you really care about clean air, if you really care about climate change, then we have to stop siloing ourselves into communities where we’re only talking to ourselves,” he said.
“We are only going to be able to move forward if we actually have this kind of conversation together.”