Editorials

Don’t forget home front on climate change

Surrounded by state lawmakers, Gov. Jerry Brown, center, signs landmark SB 350 by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, third from left. California has some of the nation’s most aggressive climate legislation, but unfinished business remains.
Surrounded by state lawmakers, Gov. Jerry Brown, center, signs landmark SB 350 by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, third from left. California has some of the nation’s most aggressive climate legislation, but unfinished business remains. Associated Press file

Notwithstanding Friday’s horrifying attacks in Paris, California’s leaders are bound for the coming United Nations climate conference. And rightfully so: Perhaps the only issue as urgent as the rise of terrorism on the planet is the threat of climate change.

Last year was the hottest on record. This year is shaping up to be even hotter. Indeed, with global warming already halfway to the point of no return – 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above the world’s pre-industrial average – it is already fearfully late.

Scientists believe it is still possible to at least mitigate this impending disaster. The problem is, the world has failed so far to reach agreement on reducing carbon emissions, and there is fear that another failure could be devastating. So it’s key that California has President Barack Obama’s back as he and other world leaders negotiate.

Paris, however, is just one of many fronts in the climate battle. California also has a long climate to-do list, and when the summit is over, it will be waiting here for lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown.

This state has already made major contributions. We have shown that responsible climate policy and economic growth needn’t be mutually exclusive. We have shown, too, that states can make a difference, even amid federal gridlock.

Brown has cut scores of “sub-national” emissions pacts with international provinces, states and cities. And state lawmakers dramatically increased California’s reliance on renewable energy with Senate Bill 350.

And California, because of its size, has been an invaluable lever in making federal policy more aggressive. That’s why one of the delegation’s jobs in Paris will be to make sure that if world leaders do reach a deal, it won’t pre-empt more ambitious state-level initiatives.

But our work here is far from done. California still has a big docket of unfinished business on climate.

For instance, though a landmark state law has radically reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the existing targets extend only through 2020, and an effort this year to extend and hasten that progress was short-circuited by moderate Democrats and oil industry lobbyists.

State lawmakers need to go back at that, along with a thwarted effort to slash petroleum use under SB 350. Both are heavy lifts.

Brown’s heft as a climate star will serve the nation well in global circles, but he’ll have to do more than rub elbows with world leaders if he hopes to bring the state’s climate policy to the next level. Disappointed environmentalists already believe that, had he engaged sooner and more personally on SB 350, the oil industry might not have slithered out of it.

So bon voyage, and safe travels, to California’s climate delegation. With Republicans in Congress trying to undermine his efforts, the president certainly can use the backup.

But our role at the summit will be mostly talk; in the end, only action will matter, and with the federal government hamstrung, it will have to come at the local level. Paris may be under siege at many levels, but home fronts like California are where this climate war will be won or lost.

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