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Antonio Guterres, Patricia Espinosa and Luis Alfonso de Alba at COP 24 in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 14. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Trump administration again used the UN’s annual climate change conference as a platform for its controversial advocacy for clean fossil fuel and nuclear technology as climate change solutions. Speakers at the Trump administration's event in Katowice argued that future coal plants should be built with advanced clean coal technology from the U.S., which includes carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The big picture: The U.S. has spent $56 billion on fossil fuel research and development from 1948 to 2018, including early support for hydraulic fracturing. The development of affordable clean coal technology could theoretically become another fracking-style game-changer, growing economies while cutting greenhouse emissions and making the U.S. and its European allies less dependent on fossil fuel imports.

How it works: Power plants can use CCS technologies to selectively capture carbon dioxide before, during or after the combustion process. The captured carbon is then sold for commercial use or stored underground.

Why it matters: The latest IPCC report and U.S. National Climate Assessment both reveal a world struggling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Chinese emissions are rising, and China, India and African nations have hundreds of new coal-fired plants planned and under construction.

  • Fracked natural gas and nuclear power are helping the U.S. reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions. Affordable, scalable clean coal technology could have similar benefits at home and abroad. If CCS can be made cost-effective, it would allow the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while accessing vast domestic coal reserves that could power the country for another 325 years at current demand, as well as to export the technology to nations planning to build new coal plants.

Yes, but: The Trump administration’s commitment to energy R&D has been shaky — Trump's last budget proposed deep cuts to the Department of Energy and scrapped a key advanced energy incubator, ARPA-E. Increased U.S. energy independence could also afford more latitude in foreign policy, but the administration nonetheless publicly aligned in Katowice with Saudi Arabia and Russia — both fossil fuel exporters on which the U.S. does not want itself or its European allies to be dependent — by blocking discussion of the IPCC report.

The bottom line: Advanced nuclear and clean coal technologies have the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, but they are unlikely to deploy at a global scale without additional public and private research investment.

Sarah E. Hunt is the co-founder and CEO of Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.

Go deeper

Biden to sign 15 executive actions on Day One

President-elect Joe Biden. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to sign 15 executive actions upon taking office Wednesday, immediately reversing key Trump administration policies.

Why it matters: The 15 actions — aimed at issues like climate change and immigration — mark more drastic immediate steps compared with the two day-one actions from Biden's four predecessors combined, according to incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Off the Rails

Episode 7: Trump turns on Pence

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Elijah Nouvelage, Alex Wong/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 7: Trump turns on Pence. Trump believes the vice president can solve all his problems by simply refusing to certify the Electoral College results. It's a simple test of loyalty: Trump or the U.S. Constitution.

"The end is coming, Donald."

The male voice in the TV ad boomed through the White House residence during "Fox & Friends" commercial breaks. Over and over and over. "The end is coming, Donald. ... On Jan. 6, Mike Pence will put the nail in your political coffin."

Big Tech's post-riot reckoning

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The Capitol insurrection means the anti-tech talk in Washington is more likely to lead to action, since it's ever clearer that the attack was planned, at least in part, on social media.

Why it matters: The big platforms may have hoped they'd move to D.C.'s back burner, with the Hill focused on the Biden agenda and the pandemic out of control. But now, there'll be no escaping harsh scrutiny.