Protesters disrupt US fossil fuel event at UN climate talks

Youth and indigenous groups protest against fossil fuels during US-hosted event at the UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, as the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference takes place in the city. (AP Photo/Frank Jordans)
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Protesters disrupted a U.S. government event at United Nations climate talks Monday, criticizing the Trump administration’s policy of backing the extraction of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

About 100 people from groups representing indigenous peoples and youth stood up and chanted “Keep it in the ground” near the beginning of the American presentation. As cameras swarmed around them, some of the protesters explained the extraction of coal, oil and natural gas affects their communities.

The U.S. event, titled “U.S. Innovative Technologies Spur Economic Dynamism,” took place on the sidelines of the ongoing U.N. meeting in Katowice, Poland. After several minutes, the activists left the room chanting “Shame on you.” Their actions mirrored a similar protest during a U.S.-hosted panel at last year’s U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Germany.

Wells Griffith, a Trump administration adviser at the Department of Energy, said after the interruption that the United States would continue extracting fossil fuels, including through hydraulic fracking. Speaking at the event, Griffith warned against “alarmism” over climate change, adding that “all energy sources are important, and they will be utilized unapologetically.”

The panel’s premise — that fossil fuels can be made “clean” through innovation — stands at odds with recommendations from scientists who say  countries should transition to renewable energy sources as soon as possible or risk catastrophic levels of global warming by the end of the century.

Investors, too, have backed a shift away from fossil fuels. On Monday, 415 pension funds and insurance companies, with over $32 trillion in assets, called on governments to phase out coal-fired power plants and put a meaningful price on carbon to help tackle climate change.

Jan Erik Saugestad, the chief executive of Storebrand, a Norwegian fund that manages $85 billion in assets, said even highly efficient coal plants are highly damaging to the environment and carbon capture technology — touted by some as a way to pull emissions out of the air again — isn’t economical.

“Investors are not going to be sold fake news on coal, which seeks to mask the rapid decline of the U.S. coal industry and disregards the solar and wind growth markets,” said Saugestad.

Even as the Trump administration promoted coal abroad, new figures show coal consumption by the U.S. power grid this year will be the lowest since 1979 as a wave of coal-fired power plants shut down.

Andrew Light, a former U.S. State Department official, said the U.S. event was unlikely to affect the landmark Paris agreement to limit global warming.

Most of the world’s countries are signatories to the 2015 agreement, while President Donald Trump has said he will withdraw the United States from it.

“This event has the audience of one person and that is President Trump,” said Light, who is now a senior adviser with the environmental group World Resources Institute.

He said the U.S. government’s arguments were more likely to upset than win over other governments represented at the talks in Katowice.

Over the weekend, the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait prevented endorsement of a scientific report on keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — the most ambitious target in the 2015 Paris climate accord. The State Department said U.S. officials didn’t discuss their position in advance with the other countries.

Washington sent a small delegation to the summit in Poland because the U.S. is technically still part of the accord.

Ministers and senior officials arrived Monday in Katowice for the second half of the meeting, which still has numerous hurdles to take before the scheduled end on Dec. 14.

Michal Kurtyka, the Polish official who is presiding over the talks, said Monday it was his “deepest wish” to have a successful conclusion.

“It is in the hands of parties and it will be a success of (the) parties or it will be our collective failure,” he said.q

Associated Press