The Slatest

California Gov. Jerry Brown Convenes Climate Summit to Keep U.S. on Track for Greenhouse Gas Goals

Solar panels cover the rooftop of the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Solar panels covering the rooftop of the Los Angeles Convention Center. California’s state government hopes to get 100 percent of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2045.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

California Gov. Jerry Brown is hosting a climate action conference starting Wednesday in hopes of tackling global warming, while the Trump administration continues to push U.S. environmental policy in the opposite direction.

The three-day Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco will bring together hundreds of scientists, political figures, and business leaders to discuss topics like reducing greenhouse gas. Guest speakers include former Vice President Al Gore and actor and environmental activist Harrison Ford.

“We’re running out of time,” Brown said on the summit website. “There’s been some backsliding since Paris and our summit… aims to increase the commitments that have already been made in Paris,” he wrote in reference to the Paris climate accord, the 2015 international agreement to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases among United Nations members.

The summit’s timing became especially relevant with the approach of Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm exacerbated by warming ocean temperatures. California experienced its own deadly effect of global warming with its record-breaking wildfire this summer.

Ever since Trump decided last year to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, Brown has been one of America’s leading figures in combatting climate change. Along with political and business leaders like Michael Bloomberg, Brown formed a coalition called We Are Still In to pursue the goals of the Paris accord in spite of the Trump administration’s resistance.

On Monday, Brown signed Senate Bill 100, a measure requiring California to get 100 percent of its electricity from zero-carbon sources such as wind and solar by 2045. California currently derives 44 percent of its power from renewables and hydropower. Brown’s move got a full-throated endorsement from the state’s former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Brown is also pushing for carbon neutrality by tackling the largest source of greenhouse gas emission—transportation. He aims to have 5 million electric cars on the road by 2030 (right now California has 369,000) and kill all production of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035.

But will these efforts be enough?

The United States is falling behind its Paris accord pledge, the New York Times reported. Under Obama, the U.S. originally promised a 26-28 percent reduction from its 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2025. At its current rate, the country will only get about halfway there, achieving a 12 to 20 percent decrease in that time frame.

To make matters worse, the federal government pursuing policies that would hasten, not slow, global warming.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to roll back the Obama-era methane limits. The new proposal will ease restrictions on methane emissions, giving energy companies 60 days instead of 30 to fix leaks of the greenhouse gas. Methane, which can leak during the extraction or transportation of natural gas, oil, or even coal, is a super pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet. The proposal will also allow companies to conduct leak inspections once a year rather than every six months.

Brown called the proposal “insane.” In a tweet this week he said, “It borders on criminality. It perhaps is the most obvious and dangerous and irresponsible action by Mr. Trump. And that’s saying quite a lot, because he has a whole list of them.”

Brown’s anger and the work of We Are Still In will likely earn positive coverage and perhaps inspire activists and business leaders. But the question is whether it will lead to swift enough action to counteract the federal government’s retrogressive policies.