BARILOCHE, Argentina (Reuters) - The United States split from other Group of 20 member countries on Friday over the future of the coal industry and the 2015 Paris climate accord, though all of them agreed to transition to cleaner fuels to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Speaking at a press conference at the close of the G20 meeting of energy ministers in Bariloche, Argentina, Germany’s director of energy policy Thorsten Herdan said G20 member countries “have to get out of coal” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.
While Herdan said phasing out coal was discussed at the meeting, there was no reference to winding down coal production in a joint statement issued by the ministers, which encouraged “increased investment and financing in renewable energy” but acknowledged that “fossil fuels still play a major role.”
The talks come as the United States is evaluating a plan to prevent struggling coal and nuclear power plants from shuttering. Environmentalists and oil, gas, solar and wind energy industry groups have criticized the move, which the Trump administration says is crucial for natural security.
“It’s not possible to put in the communique that at a certain point of time every country has to step out of coal due to the different requirements every country has,” Herdan said. “We are not a club which (says) what the others have to do.”
The meeting marked the latest disagreement between the United States and other major countries on climate policy since President Donald Trump last year pulled the country out of the Paris deal, reversing a key commitment by former President Barack Obama to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
The ministers alluded to that decision in the statement, noting that “energy transitions” were important to reduce emissions “and for those countries that are determined to implement the Paris Agreement.”
“That was one of the sentences we (fought) a long time for,” Herdan said, noting that despite the withdrawal by the United States from the Paris climate agreement, other countries wanted to express their commitment.
“Perhaps we have to admit that the language may be not as clear as everybody would like to have it, but at the end of the day that was the compromise for us to go further.”
Speaking to reporters earlier on Friday in Bariloche, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said “clean coal” and nuclear energy were “very positive for the environment,” while noting that carbon capture technology would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Diane Craft