Organizing an event to promote the burning of coal at a major international summit on climate change could be considered something of a faux pas. But that hasn't stopped the US, who – for the second year in a row – has held a panel advocating "clean" coal. (Quick sidenote: Clean coal is a "unicorn". It doesn't exist.)
The event, called "US innovative technologies spur economic dynamism", was intended to "showcase ways to use fossil fuels as cleanly and efficiently as possible, as well as the use of emission-free nuclear energy" with several representatives from the US government and energy on hand to give presentations trumpeting the "benefits" of coal. But, embarrassingly, only one person came to listen.
Australia's ambassador for the environment, Patrick Suckling, is head of the country's negotiation delegation at the COP24 climate talks, which are being held in Katowice, Poland, this month. According to Suckling, whose nameplate displayed a US flag, "Australia as a technology-neutral approach to emissions reduction... We need to be open to innovation and new technologies providing multiple pathways for energy security and emissions reductions," the Guardian reports. He called the US "a powerhouse" and said carbon capture is an important approach to cutting emissions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the only other visitors were protestors. According to the Independent, around 100 activists turned up, chanting "keep it in the ground" and other slogans.
"It is going to have virtually no impact on the actual talks," Lou Leonard, from the WWF, told the BBC, referring to the panel. "It's a sideshow, it's a side event, it's not something related to what the parties are negotiating right now."
More damaging to talks has been the US government's stance on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. This is the report published in October, which said to avoid catastrophic climate change, global temperatures must be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, not the previous 2°C agreed at the Paris climate accords. To reach this challenging if not impossible goal, greenhouse gas emissions must drop 45 percent before 2030.
Many countries, including the UK, Canada, and the EU, have announced policies to begin the phase-out of coal and other fossil fuels. However, the US, along with Russia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, chose to block the motion to "welcome" the report at COP24 on Saturday (a motion endorsed by the almost 200 remaining countries) which will make it easier to ignore the findings and any policies enacted as a result.
Australia, meanwhile, stood quietly and passively on the sidelines. The country already stands accused by climate scientists of abandoning the Paris Agreement in all but name. This is despite the fact that seven in 10 Australian citizens would support government efforts to shut down coal plants and replace fossil fuels with clean energy.
These actions are reflected in the latest Climate Change Performance Index, published on Monday, which tracks the national efforts of 57 countries to combat climate change. The index puts Sweden, Morocco, and Lithuania in fourth, fifth, and sixth place respectively, while Australia comes in at number 55 and the US lingers at the bottom (just above Saudi Arabia) at number 59. According to the report, no country performed well enough to make the top three.