Fossil fuels meet climate summit — Strange bedfellows?

The Trump Administrations daring decision to promote fossil fuels (including clean coal) at the Bonn climate summit may be paying off in unexpected ways.  The promotion may be turning into a trade show, with export deals in the offing. Even stranger, the UN Conference may invite major fossil fuel companies as future participants. This is truly the Trump effect in action.

The US fossil folks have made clear that they are happy to make deals in Bonn and a number of countries are reported to be interested. This is not as surprising as it seems. The Bonn negotiators are diplomats pursuing their country’s national interest. They are not green zealots. If a fossil fuel deal looks good for their country then they are willing to consider it. The fact that China and Alaska just signed a huge, Trump brokered, LNG export deal does not hurt.

The White House and US State Department co-organized the side event, which is titled: “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.” The Trumpers are definitely involved. George David Banks, special assistant to President Trump for international energy and environment, and a member of the National Economic Council, will provide introductory remarks. Francis Brooke, advisor to Vice President Pence, will moderate the discussion.

Panelists include: Barry Worthington, executive director of the US Energy Association; Amos Hochstein, senior vice president of marketing for Tellurian; Holly Krutka, vice president of coal generation and emissions technologies for Peabody Energy; and, Lenka Kollar, director of business strategy for NuScale Power.

The Climate Home news service reports that according to Seyni Nafo, the chair of the Africa group of climate negotiators, some African nations are turning to coal after struggling to access finance for renewable energy. “If you are presented with a certain technology with a finance package, that’s what you are going to implement,” he says, adding “That’s the situation in which we find ourselves. If the fossil option is the cheapest one and you have access to do it and it’s a simple process, that’s what you are going to do.” Any African country with coal deposits would be tempted by the prospect of electrifying rural areas of their country with relatively less-emitting coal technology, he added.

According to a recent report from the UN Environment Program, a lot of developing countries are investing heavily in new coal-fired power plants. Chief among these are China, India, Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Republic of Korea. There is no lack of the need for coal in the developing world.

As for involving the giant, multi-national energy firms in the climate movement, this too might make sense. Revenue is the primary objective here and the big energy guns are not poor. Fossil money is still money, as hypocritical as that might seem to the greens. There has always been a lot of discussion about involving private revenue sources. In fact the UN might stop bashing fossil fuels if this happened. That would be a welcome change.

The idea is to add fossil companies to what is called the intermediate level. Reportedly, Ukraine is planning to table an initiative to bring major energy corporations into the UN climate process. The Ukraine, itself a heavy coal user, says the initiative has US backing and has been encouraged by certain coal firms. The proposal would put energy multinationals into what is being called an “intermediate layer” between the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which runs the COPs and the national governments that make up the meetings.

Mind you a number of major energy companies have long been fairly green, especially oil giants like BP and Shell. Both have invested heavily in solar energy technologies. By the same token, Peabody Energy has invested huge amounts into so-called carbon capture and storage technologies for coal combustion, often partnering with the US Energy Department.

Still it would be a breakthrough if big oil and big coal joined the UNFCCC process. This would indeed be a strange Trump effect. Where it might lead is anyone’s guess.

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About the Author: David Wojick, Ph.D.

David Wojick is a journalist and policy analyst. He holds a doctorate in epistemology, specializing in the field of Mathematical Logic and Conceptual Analysis.