COP23, the 23rd annual climate change gathering, has begun. Delegates from nearly 200 countries are attending, all hashing out exactly how best to implement the Paris agreement and stop a future full of weather extremes – all except the United States, of course.
In fact, something uniquely bizarre is happening with America at the gathering in Bonn, Germany. One delegation is composed of the We Are Still In coalition, a pro-Paris group of governors, mayors, business leaders, and scientists that represent around one-third of the US population. The other, technically the official delegation, is comprised of members of the federal government whose message will genuinely be “coal is a solution to climate change.”
Images of the two delegations meeting for a showdown, or even a dance-off, are whizzing around our minds right now. It’d hardly be a fair fight though: the unofficial delegation has facts, science, and the rest of the planet on their side.
In any case, the fact that this division exists is incredibly embarrassing. Every single country on the planet, bar Syria, is on board with the Paris agreement. Every other delegation accepts that a) climate change is being caused by humans, and b) coal is literally the worst thing you can burn to accelerate climate change.
Perhaps most notably, despite all the federal-level obfuscation around climate change science, the Trump administration was recently forced to publish a major governmental report that concluded that, unsurprisingly, climate change is dangerous and we are the cause of it.
Regardless of all this, an advisor to the President is going to stand up in front of a bemused crowd during the second week of COP23 and tout the supposed benefits of coal. Several members of the fossil fuel industry, including coal-giant Peabody Energy, will join in on this grim parade of alternative facts.
It’s really difficult to see what they’re going to say. It’s like going to a conservation summit and explaining why endangered tigers, contrary to what the rest of the world thinks, should be set on fire. Their one saving grace is that they'll be talking about nuclear power too, but showing off this low-carbon energy source doesn't make up for pretending coal is the savior here.
Clearly, people aren’t impressed. Some, like Fiji’s chief negotiator Nazhat Khan, thinks that nothing constructive will come out of talks with the US at this point.
“You can have a dialogue even with somebody who is an axe murderer,” he said.
Although it’s unconfirmed, it appears that pro-coal, anti-science Scott Pruitt – the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – will not be leading the delegation or even attending COP23. Talk about not putting your money where your mouth is.