A day after the European Union approved the Paris climate change accord, Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other Californians who have led the fight against global warming gathered in Sacramento to give themselves deserved pats on the back.
Brown and his predecessor, Schwarzenegger, and legislative leaders gathered in the courtyard outside the California museum to mark the 10-year anniversary of the passage of Assembly Bill 32, the iconic measure that requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.
It would be a bit much to say that approval of one Assembly bill led to the international action. But California’s pioneering legislation certainly helped dramatize the need to act, and illustrated steps that governments could take. Brown noted 130 provinces and states signed onto an agreement he initiated to help spur international action on climate change.
The Paris agreement, adopted last December, will take effect Nov. 4, now that countries that produce 55 percent of emissions have ratified it. Signatories include the U.S., China, Russia, India, Mexico, Canada and the 28-nation European Union. They all commit to curbing rising temperatures by reducing emissions, and publicly reporting on their progress.
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“Today, the world meets the moment,” President Barack Obama said after the United Nations announced that the 55 percent threshold had been met. “And if we follow through on the commitments that this Paris agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet.”
“What once seemed unthinkable is now unstoppable,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
The targets are not enforceable, however, and U.S. involvement depends on the outcome of the Nov. 8 election. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton supports the accord. Republican Donald Trump has has vowed to cancel it. Speaker Paul Ryan, seeking to maintain Republican control of the House, has said Obama acted unlawfully by not submitting the agreement to the Senate for ratification, and warns it will damage the U.S. economy.
In Sacramento, politicians praised themselves for bills they’ve passed, for forcing emissions reductions, and for California’s economic growth, which exceeds the national average. A few hundred invited guests, many of them lobbyists and consultants to the burgeoning green tech sector, applauded repeatedly.
Back-patting aside, much remains to be done. Gasoline consumption continues to rise, and zero-emission vehicle sales are flat. The Legislature has not yet summoned the will to either impose a tax on carbon, or extend the existing cap-and-trade program, by which polluters pay to offset their emissions. With the program’s future uncertain, recent cap-and-trade auctions have generated relatively small sums to pay for other efforts to further reduce emissions.
In his remarks, Brown noted Republicans don’t vote for climate measures, and urged the party to follow the lead of former GOP governor Schwarzenegger. That’s not likely.
Schwarzenegger recalled some of the history of AB 32, including a trip he and then-Assemblywoman Fran Pavley took to Washington, D.C., to discuss climate change with George W. Bush administration officials, and persuade them that greenhouse gas is a pollutant. “How stupid must you be” to believe otherwise, Schwarzenegger said.
Schwarzenegger also recalled a failed oil- and coal-industry-backed initiative in 2010 to roll back AB 32. Schwarzenegger declared that “we terminated” that initiative and “sent the oil companies back to Texas.”
On Wednesday, the Western States Petroleum Association gathered in Half Moon Bay. It wasn’t a public meeting. But our guess is that celebrating AB 32 was not on the agenda. And that California should perhaps brace itself for a counterstrategy.