Science & Environment

Climate change: Trump coal event overshadowed at COP24

A coal plant with smoke rising into the air Image copyright Getty Images

White House representatives arrive at climate talks in Poland on Monday to promote coal and other fossil fuels.

It's expected that President Donald Trump's energy adviser, Wells Griffith, will take part in the COP24 event.

The controversial meeting occurs as investors managing $32tn (£25tn) in assets call for an end to coal as a source of energy.

Meanwhile, ministers from around 130 countries arrive here to try and steer the talks to a successful conclusion.

Just as at last year's gathering in Bonn, the Trump White House is keen to show strong support for fossil fuels.

According to a statement from the US State Department, the event will "showcase ways to use fossil fuels as cleanly and efficiently as possible, as well as the use of emission-free nuclear energy".

Last year's event was disrupted by singing protesters keen to point out that the pro-coal and gas lobby were not welcome at the UN event.

This year's meeting has environmentalists questioning its relevance.

"The event is going to further undermine the credibility of the US as a party in these talks," said Lou Leonard with WWF.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Donald Trump has long spoken of his devotion to coal

"It is going to have virtually no impact on the actual talks - it's a sideshow, it's a side event, its not something related to what the parties are negotiating right now."

The White House-endorsed event does indeed seem to be out of step with the wider conference, where green campaigners are likely be cheered by the news that 415 investors with around $32tn of assets under management are calling for greater action on climate change and an end to coal as a source of energy.

Released here in Katowice, the global investor statement is said to be the largest intervention by investors on the issue of rising temperatures, and represents some of the world's biggest funds including Schroders plc, BNP Paribas Asset Management, Aberdeen Standard Investments and UBS Asset Management.

"Despite the misguided policies of the Trump administration, global efforts to address the very real threat climate risk presents to the economy, financial markets and investment returns are ongoing," said Thomas P. DiNapoli, the New York State Comptroller who oversees the New York State Common Retirement Fund, responsible for a $207bn pension fund.

"We are still in and remain committed to supporting the Paris Agreement's climate goals."

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Image caption Almost half the coal workers in the EU work in Poland

Meanwhile ministers from around 130 countries are arriving in Katowice with significant challenges ahead to ensure a successful outcome.

A serious row over science erupted at the weekend and has soured relationships between some delegates here.

'Wilfully ignorant'

Negotiators from the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait refused to "welcome" the IPCC report on 1.5C that a huge majority of countries wanted to put at the heart of the talks.

Researchers and campaigners were angered by the move.

"The IPCC 1.5C report is the most important climate assessment of the 21st Century," said Prof Johan Rockström, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

"Yet four nations refused to 'welcome' this reality. This is wilfully ignorant and grossly negligent. As ministers meet this week for UN climate talks in Poland, they must push for this report to be at the heart of the conference."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protestors in Katowice say that coal has to go to prevent dangerous climate change

The view was echoed by other observers.

"There's a huge amount of frustration," said Camilla Born, from environmental think tank E3G.

"The world saw the IPCC report launched, and they understood that we need to do more, to act faster and harder and faster now. Its not going to go down well if we fail to welcome that science."

The ministers will try and agree the outstanding issues on the rulebook for the Paris agreement - but there is also a sense that they need to go beyond that, to deliver more ambition to tackle the issue.

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