- - Monday, November 13, 2017

Bonn, Germany — Singing, banner-waving protesters disrupted the first U.S. presentation Monday night at U.N.-organized climate change talks here, accusing the Trump administration of greed and collusion with big business and urging America to “leave its coal in the ground.”

In a sign of the tensions brought on by President Trump’s June decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, U.N. security officials watched helplessly as nearly half the audience in the lecture hall stood, sang and waved their arms to interrupt the presentation.

But the session’s key speaker, David Banks, a climate adviser to President George W. Bush, said it was those opposing clean coal who “bury their heads in the sand and ignore reality.”

Mr. Banks, a former top executive at the American Council for Capital Formation and now a White House special assistant on energy and environment, said world demand for electricity would grow 30 percent in the next two decades, a demand that could only be met with a mix of coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewable fuel energy. Mr. Banks also gave some of the first hints of Mr. Trump’s climate negotiating plans going forward.

“The president still intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement, but in good faith we will continue to work with parties to the accord,” he said. “There are 1,600 new coal plants being built around the world, and demand for coal and gas is growing. It’s in the global interest that, if these fuels are going to be used anyway, it must be done as cleanly as possible.”

This 23rd “Conference of Parties” on climate change — COP23 — has seen more than 19,000 officials, interest groups, protesters and journalists descend on Bonn, the onetime German capital. The event late Monday was the only one the U.S. delegation organized in Bonn.

To the tune of the Lee Greenwood song “God Bless the USA,” the protesters mockingly sang, “You claim to be an American, but we see right through your greed.” They then walked out, leaving rows of empty seats that were quickly filled by other delegates who had originally been turned away for lack of space.

Barry Worthington, the director of the United States Energy Association, who shared the podium with Mr. Banks, said he was sad to see the demonstrators go.

“They may have learned something if they’d stayed in the room,” he said. “There are 1.2 billion people around the world living without electricity, and you don’t end hunger or poverty without access to power, and that means using fossil fuels for some time to come.”

Mr. Banks said he believed it was not possible for developing countries to meet their climate goals and address poverty and hunger without American clean-coal technology. He also hit out at funding groups who have held back money from such projects. The World Bank has a policy of not financing power stations that use coal.

“Keeping gas and coal in the ground robs poor countries of their natural wealth. And universal access to affordable energy is the way to lift people out of poverty,” he said.

Some of the displays at stands around the venue dealt with single-battery solar units given by USAID and other groups to villages in Africa and Asia, but Mr. Banks said this was not enough.

“You can’t offer poor people a single light and maybe a fan when those of us in the developed world would refuse to live with that level of power,” he said.

Elsewhere at the U.N. meeting, Britain and Germany spoke of plans to phase out coal entirely, though a leaked report showed Germany may be years behind in its goal. Canada is also debating a reduction in carbon fuel.

But Russia, Australia and Ukraine have lobbied for a blend of sources to generate power. All three have a growing demand for energy.

Holly Krutka, vice president for emissions technology at U.S. coal-producing giant Peabody Energy, said at Monday’s briefing that signatories to the Paris deal should accept the reality that “the world will continue to use coal, and we can’t make that go away.”

“But we can bring emissions way down,” she said. “We can create affordable and clean energy with low-emission coal.”


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