California Gov. Jerry Brown to world climate leaders in Germany: '#WeAreStillIn'

2017-11-14 | San Francisco Chronicle

Nov. 13--Gov. Jerry Brown took the helm of a group of U.S. political and business leaders visiting Germany this week with an awkward task: convincing the rest of the world that Americans don't share President Trump's agenda on climate change -- or lack thereof.

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For the first time since Trump vowed to pull out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the international community is meeting to discuss how to go about cutting greenhouse gas emissions, an effort that's only become harder with America's outsider stance. Even Syria, the other holdout on the climate deal, revealed last week it's now on board.

But over the course of nearly two weeks and four countries, Brown has sought to reassure the more than 190 nations participating in this month's U.N. climate summit that, even without the White House, American cities and states can make progress in fighting global warming.

"We are here to forge partnerships," Brown said in a telephone interview Monday from Bonn, Germany. "People are very glad America is represented. It's not just California, but Virginia, Washington, Oregon ... There's just a plethora of actors that are here and that, I think, is encouraging to other countries and other regions."

While Brown and other big-name American climate advocates, including former Vice President Al Gore and ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, don't officially represent the United States, they and dozens of others from the U.S. occupy a massive inflatable tent with a stage and seating, decorated by plenty of American flags and the hashtag "#WeAreStillIn." Witnesses described long lines to get in over the weekend.

The group is in stark contrast to the official U.S. delegation at the conference, a panel of career government workers that has kept a relatively low profile. The faction was scheduled to give a presentation Monday on the virtues of clean coal and fossil fuel.

Meanwhile, Brown has been touting a coalition of 14 states, including California, that announced it's on track to meet a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels. That was the target set by the Obama administration when the U.S. was committed to the Paris accord.

While the coalition is unlikely to carry the rest of the country past the goal line, a report unveiled last week by an alliance of U.S. cities, states and businesses, known as America's Pledge, highlighted the significance of the local effort. If the U.S. institutions that are committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions were a sovereign nation, they'd be the third largest economy in the world.

Brown, who has little more than a year left in his final term in office, has pushed hard during his governorship for stricter California climate policies, while lobbying other nations and states to do the same.

His current trip has taken him to Vatican City, Belgium, Norway and finally Germany, where he said the mission was as important as anything he's done.

"We're talking about real destruction, not some political sidebar," he said. "The fact that you have a Republican Party in denial and a president that has invented this notion that climate change is a hoax, it's so far-fetched. It's hard to believe that a human being said that, but Donald Trump did."

On Monday, the goal of keeping worldwide temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius, as laid out in the Paris agreement, got even tougher. A report released by the Global Carbon Project, a group tracking greenhouse gas emissions, indicated that levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide are likely to grow in 2017, after a three-year plateau.

The report found that progress is being undercut by fossil fuel pollution in countries with growing industries, such as India and China.

It's clear the 175 parties signed on to the Paris deal are already struggling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees. The two-week conference in Bonn is expected to address what contribution each participant will make and how to track progress.

Lou Leonard, senior vice president for climate change and energy at the World Wildlife Fund, said Monday that not having the U.S as a signatory could hamper the effort, but added that the work of Brown and others outside Washington is going a long way.

"What's been achieved so far has been achieved by the work at the city and state level," Leonard said. "There's reason to believe that this sub-national approach to delivering on the Paris agreement can work."

Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: kalexander@sfchronicle.com

Twitter: @kurtisalexander