At UN Climate Conference, Administration Defends ‘Cleaner’ Fossil Fuels, Draws Protests

By Patrick Goodenough | November 14, 2017 | 4:35 AM EST

Opposing President Trump's climate policies, a coalition of U.S. states, cities and companies called 'America's Pledge' is playing an active role at the U.N. climate conference in Bonn, Germany. (Photo: UNFCCC/Flickr)

( – Venturing deep into hostile territory, Trump administration delegates at U.N. climate talks in Bonn on Monday made the argument for fossil fuels to be part of the solution to climate change – and ran into some vocal opposition.

Dozens of singing protestors disrupted a “side event” panel entitled, “The role of cleaner and more efficient fossil fuels and nuclear power in climate mitigation.”

“Without a question, fossil fuels will continue to be used,” President Trump’s special assistant on international energy and environment, George David Banks, told the event before the disruption, citing International Energy Agency projections.

“We would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure that when fossil fuels are used that it’s as clean and efficient as possible,” he said, noting that many other countries recognize that reality as well.

Banks also said while some in Bonn viewed the panel as provocative, “I think that this panel is only controversial if we choose to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the realities of the global energy system.”

The notion that the administration would promote fossil fuels, no matter how “clean” or “efficient,” at a U.N. climate conference where “100 percent renewable energy” is touted as the ideal outraged many participants.

Led by members of a U.S. youth advocacy organization called SustainUS, dozens of protestors stood, photographed each other, and sang about keeping fossil fuels “in the ground” – to the tune of the patriotic song “God bless the U.S.A.” (see below for lyrics)

After the protestors left the discussion proceeded, amid continuing heckling.


“Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit,” tweeted former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy for cities and climate change.

“It’s patently absurd to suggest that coal has any role to play in solving the climate crisis,” John Fleming, a climate scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Further use of coal is a death sentence for the planet.”


The administration in August lodged its formal notification to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but under its terms can only leave in 2020.

Because it remains a party until then, a U.S. delegation is present at the Bonn talks, which are focused on ways to help countries lift their targets, under the Paris agreement, to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” (GHG) blamed for climate change.

The U.S. presence is much lower-profile than in past years, when the Obama administration had a pavilion at the annual U.N. conference.

This year, a coalition of U.S. states, cities and companies – “America’s Pledge” – has an alternative to the missing pavilion – a “U.S. climate action center” operating under the banner “We’re still in,” with Bloomberg and California Gov. Jerry Brown playing prominent roles.

The center is hosting panel discussions, talks, receptions and other events, culminating in the presentation of a petition to U.N. climate change officials, “to tell the international community that the U.S. will lead on climate regardless of federal actions.”

“The Trump administration is not only isolated in the world community on this issue, but also isolated within America on this issue,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), one of several Democratic lawmakers attending the conference, told one of the events.

“Congress has many strong voices who oppose the Trump administration,” he said. “Governors, mayors, American corporations, our NGO community, are all continuing ahead.”


Speaking Saturday at the center he helped to fund, Bloomberg alluded to Monday’s coal-and-nuclear event organized by the U.S. delegation.

“The Trump administration did send a delegation here to Bonn, and it might be the first climate conference where – this is not a joke, folks – coal is being promoted as an example of sustainability,” he said to boos.

“But it will also likely be the last,” he said. “The world is moving on – and so is the United States.”

The Paris agreement aims, through reducing GHG emissions and other steps, to keep the planet’s average temperature rise above pre-industrial levels below two degrees Celsius.

Coal is blamed for about one-quarter of GHG emissions, and campaigns to “phase out coal” in the coming years have been picking up steam.

But more than 40 percent of the world’s electricity supply is generated from coal, and some see carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology – trapping and storing carbon emissions underground – as an important part of a viable solution

Last month the U.S. Department of Energy announced it will steer up to $26 million in federal assistance towards CCS research and development projects.

The words of the protest song sung on Monday were:

So you claim to be an American
But we see right through your greed.
It’s killing all across the world
For that coal money.
And we proudly stand up
Until you keep it in the ground.
We the people of the world unite
And we are here to stay.

They were sung to the tune of Lee Greenwood’s “God bless the U.S.A.,” whose lyrics are, in part:

And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I gladly stand up next to you
And defend her still today
Cos there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the U.S.A.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow