International Coal and Climate Summit Hears Tough Love from UNFCCC Head As Protests Highlight Poland's Coal Addiction

The second week of the COP19 UN climate change conference in Warsaw kicked off today with a focus on the continuing obstruction of the bad actors in the process - Japan, Australia and Canada - as well as the head-scratching decision by the Polish government to co-host a ‘clean coal’ conference just down the street from the national stadium where the COP19 UN negotiations are taking place.

This morning, Greenpeace unfurled a banner on the front of Poland’s Ministry of Economy building in protest of the World Coal Association’s International Coal and Climate Summit taking place inside. Beneath the banner, activists held a People Before Coal rally (#Cough4Coal), inflating a giant set of pink lungs and calling for an immediate phase-out of coal plants worldwide in order to safeguard public health, ecosystems and the global climate.

Poland’s move to co-host the World Coal Association’s ‘clean coal’ summit in the midst of the UNFCCC conference is widely seen here as a slap in the face to the assembled delegates, NGOs and activists from around the world. **Update: Poland was awarded the Fossil of the Day award on Monday for its coal boosterism, and activists have re-named the country #Coaland on Twitter.**

The fact that the Coal and Climate Summit is being held under the auspices of the Polish government is further proof that it cares neither for the well-being of its citizens nor the environment,” Dr. Michal Wilczynski, the former Chief Geologist and ex-Deputy Minister of Environment in Poland said in a statement.

Inside the coal industry summit, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, had some tough love to share with the assembled coal executives. The coal industry “must change rapidly and dramatically,” she said, noting that coal has “an unacceptably high cost to human and environmental health.” She stressed that the world must “leave most existing [coal] reserves in the ground” in order to avert climate chaos. 

“The IPCC's findings have been endorsed by 195 governments, including all of those in which you operate. We are at unprecedented greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent. If we continue to meet energy needs as we have in the past, we will overshoot the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degree Celsius.”

Figueres concluded with an appeal to the executives to “look past next quarter's bottom line and see the next generation's bottom line.”

Back at the national stadium, delegates continued to try to negotiate despite attempts by Japan, Australia and Canada to undermine progress and belittle proposed solutions to climate change.

Japan is under fire for its decision to abandon its 25% by 2020 emissions reductions target and instead increase its carbon pollution by 3.1% during the period, earning itself the Fossil of the Day award on Friday. 

Meanwhile, Australia and Canada continue to draw fire for their antagonistic role in Warsaw.

At a time the world needs a plan to combat climate change the most, Canada celebrates inaction and mocks international efforts. Applauding Australia’s backwards steps to repeal its carbon price, when Canada is so far off its own targets, undermines the critical opportunity to advance action. Canada’s unwillingness to take even the most basic steps to close its emissions gap is a national embarrassment on this global stage,” said David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada.

**Update: At a press conference this afternoon at COP19, I asked Christiana Figueres [17 minute mark] about the reaction after her statements at the International Coal and Climate Summit. She said she received “applause” and that the coal industry “accepts the science of climate change” and understands “the need for a major shift in the deployment of their capital.” 

DeSmog's Kevin Grandia followed up with a question to Figueres about the wisdom of chasing the carbon capture and storage pipe dream. She said that, given the fact that solar power has reached grid parity with fossil fuels in some markets, “it makes an extraordinary amount of sense to put money into renewables” instead, and that's where coal companies should be investing out of fiduciary responsibility to their workers and shareholders.**


Here are some photos from the morning rally, courtesy of
#Cough4Coal Action
#Cough4Coal Action