Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. mayors to travel to Vatican for climate meetings with Pope Francis

Source: Scott Detrow, E&E reporter • Posted: Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pope Francis and California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) have led very different lives since they both began studying for the priesthood in the 1950s.

Brown left the Jesuit seminary after only a few years, realizing his vocation lay in the family business of politics, rather than the church. Francis, of course, went on to become the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics.

But this month, the two men whose paths took them in dramatically different directions will meet to discuss a common concern: climate change.

In their own ways, the two septuagenarians have become international leaders in the fight against global warming. Their expected meeting, at a Vatican conference, underscores how eager Francis is to engage in the political realm to achieve his goal of a low-carbon, low environmental-impact future.

Brown is one of dozens of politicians from around the world to attend the two-day conference, which will also address human trafficking, in addition to climate change. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will attend, too, as well as the mayors of San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; Vancouver, British Columbia; Rome; and Boulder, Colo.

“It certainly looks as if they’re trying to have a representative sample of cities around the world — big cities, small cities,” said Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum, who has overseen the establishment of an aggressive climate action plan. “Cities are where the action’s at. Many [national] governments have taken little to no substantive action, and some have been very hostile to working on climate change issues. I think it’s great the pope recognizes cities are where things are happening.”

Francis has made it clear that a major goal of the landmark encyclical he released last month, “Laudato Si,'” is to influence December’s U.N. climate negotiations in Paris that is expected to end with a new global accord. In addition to the upcoming gathering of mayors and regional leaders, the Vatican has hosted a climate conference featuring U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (ClimateWire, April 29).

Timing political outreach for maximum impact

Earlier this week, during a visit to Ecuador, Francis spoke about climate change and the environment for the first time since the encyclical’s release.

“One thing is certain: we can no longer turn our backs on reality, on our brothers and sisters, on mother earth,” said a transcript of his speech provided by Vatican Radio. “It is wrong to turn aside from what is happening all around us, as if certain situations did not exist or have nothing to do with our life.”

Anthony Annett, a climate change and sustainable development adviser at the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Religions for Peace, said he expects Francis to continue hammering home on the encyclical’s themes during public speeches and to keep reaching out to political leaders.

“The timing is really important,” he said. “He deliberately wanted to time it for 2015” and the U.N. negotiations.

Francis will visit Washington, D.C.; New York; and Philadelphia in September. “If he gives the same message in the U.S. as he did in Latin America, it would be very powerful,” Annett said.

The pope will certainly have a high-profile platform to deliver that message. On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that Francis’ address to a joint session of Congress will be broadcast to the public on the western front of the Capitol, and that the pope will likely come outside to address the crowd after he wraps up his speech.

Papal-Calif. friction on carbon markets?

He will arrive at Congress having already met with about a dozen American politicians scheduled to attend the two-day conference on July 21 and 22. The highest-profile politician on the invitation list is the longest-serving governor in California history. Brown told the Los Angeles Times that he thought Francis’ encyclical could help bolster the argument for aggressive climate action, saying the pope “[brings] a moral and theological dimension that adds to the market and political calculation.”

But while Brown and Francis are on the same page when it comes to transitioning the world to a greener economy, there’s one key area where they disagree. Francis surprised many observers by using a paragraph of his encyclical to denounce market-based approaches to lowering carbon emissions, like the cap-and-trade systems employed by California and Northeastern states.

“The strategy of buying and selling ‘carbon credits’ can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gasses worldwide,” Francis wrote. “This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”

In an interview with America Magazine, Brown separated Francis’ critique of carbon allowance purchases from the program that California has developed. “Our cap and trade is different,” he said. “First of all, it’s not the only initiative. It isn’t just ‘go your merry way, we’ll have a cap and trade program, you’ll buy allowances and then you can go pollute.’ No, we have a cap that says you must keep lowering your emissions, and if you can’t you have to buy allowances, in fact you have to pay a fee.”

Brown pointed out that California also has efforts in place to expand renewable energy and lower vehicle emissions. “We’re not just relying on one technique or intervention,” he told the Jesuit magazine.

Brown, who recently attended a climate change-focused conference in Canada, has high hopes for the two-day Vatican event. “This is about the future of humanity and how we as human beings live and treat one another and the natural world around us,” he said in a statement.