Six thousand of the world’s energy leaders have descended on Pittsburgh, where they hope to plan a future for the planet that will avoid the devastating consequences of predicted climate change.
The Global Clean Energy Action Forum, held Downtown at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, is possibly the largest international conference to land in the city since the G20 summit in 2009.
It is championed by local officials, praised by billionaire magnates, and derided by hardcore environmentalists.
The two-day schedule that started on Thursday morning packed more than 100 general sessions, each bringing together different specialists around the theme of clean energy.
At a meeting on Thursday led by US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, senior government officials from 29 countries discussed ways to lower carbon emissions while creating new jobs.
During his opening speech, Granholm floated themes from “industrial decarbonization” to nuclear power and bio fuels.
“One of the main goals of his forum is to bring together people who are working to make a clean energy transition, and that’s in the countries that are gathered here today,” Granholm said. “Each of us recognizes that this transition is not only necessary to combat climate change, it is also the answer to the energy security challenges we all face, and it is an opportunity to create millions of good paying energy jobs.”
The media was not invited to stay for the “working meeting” that followed the address.
Later in the day, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf discusses regional innovation in Pittsburgh, while Bill Gates leads a “fireside chat” on technology solutions.
US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) is scheduled to kick off Friday’s schedule with a “fireside chat” on barriers to large private investment in clean energy.
The forum comes to Pittsburgh as the debate over energy continues to rage locally. The hydrofracturing boom that has brought jobs and investment to the region over the past decade has come against a growing backlash from advocates who say it harms the environment and lends only a short-term boost to the economy.
Examples include a council bill passed in Julyy banning future fracking projects in Allegheny County parklands, and more recently resident resistance of plans to drill for gas near a public school in Elizabeth Township.
Some in the public remain skeptical about the broader goals of the clean energy movement, which often promotes natural gas as a short-term ally in the longer fight for a green future.
On Wednesday, students marched through the streets of Oakland protesting hydrogen investment and carbon capture initiatives supported by the forum. The march was part of a larger series of protests at the forum led by local and national advocates, including a delegation from the Lummi Nation.
The next day, US Department of Energy officials at the forum announced a $7 billion investment in hydrogen, and, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, local officials lined up for a share.