Speaking before an assembly of lobbyists and corporate heads at a global coal industry conference in Warsaw, Poland Monday, United Nations Climate Chief Christiana Figueres has spurred the ire of environmentalists as she characterized the leading greenhouse gas emitters as possible leaders in a clean energy future.
"The coal industry has the opportunity to be part of the worldwide climate solution," Figueres said in her keynote address before the summit of the World Coal Association.
Complimenting the "knowledge and experience" of the gathered coal executives as an asset to be utilized in the effort to keep global warming beneath the two degree Celsius limit agreed to by the international community, Figueres vowed that her position was not "a call for the immediate disappearance of coal."
Figueres' address defied the request of green groups who asked that she boycott the summit. As Sophie Yeo of RTCC.org reports, climate campaigners have repeatedly said the presence of the coal groups is a provocation and a distraction from the COP19 UN climate conference that is also being held in Warsaw this week.
During the address, Figueres recommended a set of "fundamental parameters" for what she described as "green" transition for coal. Her recommendations included closing all existing "subcritical" plants and implementing "safe" Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS) technology on all new plants, which environmental groups have been long-critical of.
In a turn that environmentalists such as 350.org spokesperson Jamie Henn heralded as a step in the right direction, during the speech Figueres also called upon the coal industry to leave "most existing" reserves of coal in the ground.
"The good news about the speech is that if you read it closely, it basically spells the end of coal," Henn told Common Dreams in an emailed statement. "The Secretary told the industry to shutdown dirty plants and keep coal in the ground. The bad news is she softened the blow with fantasies about carbon capture and so-called 'clean coal.'"
Henn added that her presence at the coal summit legitimized what he called an "industry greenwashing extravaganza" in an "unnecessary way."
Following the speech, John Gummer, chair of the UK government's climate advisers and former UK environment minister, tweeted:
— John Deben (@lorddeben) November 18, 2013
And outside the summit, protesters donned face masks of Figueres' image and held banners reading, "There is no such thing as clean coal." They also carried a pair of large, inflatable lungs to highlight the "huge health impacts and costs to climate."
"The conference is a desperate attempt by the coal industry to greenwash their industry," writes 350.org's Hoda Baraka, who took part in the action along with representatives from groups including the Polish Youth Climate Network, CEE Bank Watch, Corporate Europe Observatory, Klima Allianz, 350.org, Tools For Action, and the #Cough4Coal Initiative.
"Our movement's demand is clear: an immediate phase out of all coal technologies and a shift of investments towards energy technologies that respect peoples’ health, the climate and environment," Baraka continued. "Dirty fuel sources like coal have no place in a 21st century clean energy economy; this reality can no longer be ignored."
The protest was part of a day of action in Warsaw which began with Greenpeace dropping a banner which read, "Who rules the world? Fossil Industry or the People?" on the Polish Ministry of Economy building where the coal industry summit is being held.