CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The United States can tackle threats to the climate through technological advances as fossil fuels will remain a priority for the U.S. government and business, the assistant secretary for fossil energy said on Tuesday.
The world should look to the United States’ ability to reduce its emissions, the Department of Energy’s Steven Winberg said at an oil conference in South Africa a day after the Trump administration formally moved to exit the Paris Agreement.
“We can solve any climate issue with technology development, one thing you see back in U.S. history is we have consistently solved challenges that were put before us,” Winberg told Reuters at the event which drew energy ministers from across Africa as well as U.S. and other international energy companies.
The United States, the top historic greenhouse gas emitter and a leading oil and gas producer, is the only party to the accord to formally seek an exit.
Many of its European allies, including Spain and Germany, expressed disappointment at the move.
A small group of protesters from the climate change awareness group Extinction Rebellion dressed in hazard suits rushed the lobby of the Cape Town event, smearing oil on the floor with mops while singing, “planet earth is burning down!”
Asked about U.S. allies and partners’ reactions to the withdrawal, Winberg said: “My message would be, take a look at what we’re doing in the United States on reducing our emissions and developing 21st century technology”.
He said U.S. carbon dioxide emissions had fallen by 14% between 2005 and 2017 and cited the development of liquid natural gas and its potential to be converted into cleaner hydrogen, capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide and advances in coal-fired boilers.
The Trump administration in August proposed rescinding Obama-era limits on oil and gas industry emissions of methane, one of the main pollutants scientists link to climate change.
On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it planned to ease Obama-era rules on toxic coal ash.
Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to rescind the U.S.’ commitment to the Paris deal - a cut by over a quarter in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 from 2005 levels - arguing the restrictions would harm the U.S. economy and workers.
Finally leaving the agreement will be a decision for the winner of the 2020 presidential election, however, and Winberg said U.S. energy companies and the U.S. shale “fracking” boom will continue to enjoy bipartisan support.
“The shale revolution got started during the George W. Bush administration, got kicked off in a commercial way under the Obama administration and during the Trump administration it’s been embraced,” he said.
additional reporting by Jonas Ekblom in Brussels; Editing by Catherine Evans and Emelia Sithole-Matarise