The decision of the Trump administration to host a pro-coal presentation at the UN climate summit in Bonn has angered both scientists and international diplomats.
For the next two weeks, world leaders will gather in Bonn during the COP23 — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Two years ago, in Paris, the so-called Paris Agreement was agreed upon by almost every country on the planet, in a pledge to try to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. During the Obama administration, the US has been one of the key supporters of the Paris Agreement, especially through John Kerry, who was pivotal in the negotiations. But the Trump administration has vowed to exit the Paris agreement which, ironically, it won’t be able to do until 2020, when a new administration might step in. So Trump has sent a delegation to the UN conference, but the delegation is a bit unorthodox, to say the least.
The delegation seems in no way fit to contribute to climate talks. You could easily mistake it for a fossil fuel lobby group mean to push a corporate agenda.
Instead of sending scientists or environmentalists to what is, after all, an environment-focused conference, the delegation will feature public servants and fossil fuel representatives. Among others, speakers for coal giant Peabody Energy are expected to take the stage and speak about how coal can help curb emissions and reduce temperatures.
An alternate reality
Using coal to solve the climate problem is, to mildly paraphrase George Carlin, like screwing for virginity. Reactions from other participants were immediate and direct. Long-time talks participant Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists, commented:
“It’s not a credible solution, but that doesn’t seem to bother them.”
“They might even welcome some of the reaction to show to their base that they are fighting for America’s interest and not this globalist malarkey.”
Others were even blunter.
“Fossil fuels having any role in tackling climate change is beyond absurd. It is dangerous,” said Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development.
“These talks are no place for pushing the fossil fuel agenda. The US needs to come back to the table and help with the rapid cuts in emissions that the situation demands.”
Ironically, this comes right after a lengthy US report concludes that anthropogenic global warming is a certain reality and that direct action needs to be ready. Unfortunately, US leadership seems more interested in creating its own alternating reality than following scientific realities.
Who’s speaking for the US, though?
There are still some reasons to be optimistic. Despite Trump’s desperate efforts, much of America still supports the Paris Agreement and is fighting to keep the country’s emissions at bay. The US Climate Alliance, which represents 14 states and approximately 36% of the country’s population will participate in Paris as a different delegation. Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee, says Trump’s plans will only ignite environmental offers.
“We need to make sure that the world maintains confidence in our ability to move forward,” he told reporters.
“So far, not one single nation state, city or county, municipality or school district have followed Donald Trump into the ranks of surrendering to climate change since he pulled out of Paris – his decision has energised our efforts.”
At a city level, there’s also a strong environmental movement. Over 7,000 cities worldwide have pledged their commitment to the Paris Agreement, including several hundred from the US. They too will have a delegation in Bonn.
“Whatever ‘America first’ is supposed to mean, it absolutely does not mean America alone,” said Mayor Lionel Johnson from the city of St Gabriel in Louisiana.
“My fellow mayors and I stand united and we stand with the international community to pursue solutions to the dramatic climate challenges we are facing together. Count us in!”
Two years ago, the COP was all about developing and signing the Paris Agreement. Last year, the main focus was the implementation of the pledges. This year, undoubtedly, the uncertain position of the US will be the focal point of the conference.
With or without the US, the world seems committed to work together and reduce emissions. Whether or not it will manage to do so before irreversible damage is done to the planet is a different discussion, but at least we’re taking steps in the right direction.