KATOWICE, Poland — In theory, President Trump could lead hard but necessary negotiations at a climate conference here about the realities of the world’s significant dependence on fossil fuels and their role in warming the planet. But that’s not going to happen.
Driving the news: With Trump and his top advisers not acknowledging that humans are driving global temperatures up, and instead promoting coal and other fossil fuels full stop, a side event they’re hosting today will ring hollow and is likely to deepen the divide over energy and climate change.
“I have long believed that the GOP position on the science undermines its ability to put forward a real climate policy,” said George David Banks, a former top adviser to Trump on these issues.
He hosted a similar event last year at the same conference. That session drew hundreds of protesters who said fossil fuels have no role at a climate summit. Expect the same this year.
The intrigue: Katowice, a small city in the heart of Poland’s coal-mining region, is hosting the big annual UN confab that's seeking to make progress on the 2015 Paris Agreement. Trump has vowed to withdraw the U.S. from that agreement.
Coal’s presence is both palpable and shunned here. An environmental group gave the Polish government a derisive “Fossil of the Day” award, accusing it of not urging more aggressive commitments to the 2015 deal and promoting coal.
Reality check: Deriding fossil fuels, at a climate conference or anywhere, is unlikely to change the status quo. The reality is that oil, natural gas and coal provide all of us huge benefits by fueling our global economy. And yes, they also have a big negative impact on the environment. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
The big picture: The ambition around the world for the Paris deal is lessening, fueled by nationalistic leaders like Trump and Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who has criticized the deal and withdrew from hosting this same conference next year. As the political support for the agreement is waning, carbon dioxide emissions are rising.
“When I look at my hopes, compared to previous years, they are getting less and less because the numbers are stubborn,” says Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental research group. “The political determination of the different governments is not as strong as it was three years ago.”
What’s next: One expert speaking at today’s event, Rich Powell, hopes progress can still be made reducing emissions even though the administration doesn't acknowledge climate change as a problem. As executive director of the nonprofit ClearPath Foundation, Powell works on cleaner energy technologies from a conservative perspective.
"Our thesis is that we need a more realistic narrative about the solutions, which will bring a wider political acceptance on doing something about it," Powell says.
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