Climate conference shows divide among Democrats over how to counter global warming

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Monday, September 17, 2018

Members of the group 1000 Grandmothers protest outside the Moscone Center in San Francisco where the Global Climate Action Summit is being held, on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. The group, which says it is made up of elder women activists working to address the climate crisis, chanted “Listen to your Grandma, no more fracking!” (AP Photo/Juliet Williams)

SAN FRANCISCO — The organizers of a climate-change conference here in California wanted their three-day summit to be a repudiation of President Trump. And during many speeches, and commitments from cities and companies to reduce their impact on the environment, it was.

But at other times both in and outside the convention center in San Francisco, activists protested against the current Democratic approach. The clash marked a high-profile schism between the middle- and far-left segments of the Democratic coalition about how forcefully to address climate change.

The event was set up to show how the private sector and local governments are pressing ahead to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions even as the president promises to pull the United States out of the landmark Paris climate agreement.

The Global Climate Action Summit was organized by the state’s Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who just days earlier signed a bill committing California to getting 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. He followed that up with an even more ambitious mandate, outlined in an executive order, to decarbonize California’s entire economy by that year too. And then on Thursday, he signed a bevy of 16 bills attempting to reduce the carbon footprint of California’s many automobiles by putting more electric cars on the road.

The climate summit saw a scattershot of plans and commitments by other states, cities and companies eager to push ahead on problems they believe Trump has turned his back on. Groups and companies announced plans on everything from rain forests to electric car charging stations.

Twelve cities, including Tokyo and Seoul, joined an initiative to slash emissions in city centers, making room on the roads for electric car fleets. And New York City announced it will invest $4 billion in pension funds for climate change initiatives in the next three years, doubling current investments. On the industry side, LeasePlan, a Dutch company that is one of the biggest fleet providers in world with 1.8 million vehicles, will step up purchases of electric vehicles. So will the French electricity giant EDF Energy, which has about 30,000 vehicles, organizers said.

Many other consumer-facing brands outside of heavy industries like oil and autos made their own moves. Starbucks said it plans to build 10,000 “greener stories” by 2025, attempting to save $50 million in utility costs over the next decade. Food-and-drink giant Unilever said it will certify 150,000 acres of palm oil plantations in Malaysia as sustainable.

California Gov. Jerry Brown walks to the bow of the high-tech battery-operated San Francisco Bay sightseeing boat, Enhydra, for a cruise of San Francisco Bay, where he signed 16 new laws aimed at easing global warming on Thursday in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

It remains to be seem whether that constellation of commitments from cities and companies, none of which are legally binding, turns out to be just a wish list. But many of the more well-traveled attendees of climate conferences were encouraged.

“I’ve been to a lot of gatherings and conferences related to the climate crisis for many years now, and this is really top-notch,” former vice president Al Gore said in an interview. “The nature of the commitments being announced is extremely heartening.”

At times, the summit felt like a reunion of officials who served in the Barack Obama and Bill Clinton administrations. (Obama made an appearance, though only via prerecorded video.)

Yet it was Brown, more than anyone, who cemented his place as one of Trump’s chief foes on climate issues by hosting the summit and signing the carbon-free electricity bill. The California governor seemed to relish the role. When asked during a press conference how Trump will be remembered, Brown responded: “Liar, criminal, fool. Pick your choice.”

However, for the hundreds of activists outside George R. Moscone Convention Center, Brown was the antagonist. Waving signs addressed to Brown saying “Climate Leaders Don’t Drill,” many of the protestors wanted the governor to stop the expansion of oil production in California, which last year was the fourth largest producer of crude among U.S. states.

“You need keep-it-in-the-ground commitments,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said in an interview. “People don’t know how big oil and gas development is in California.”

Broadly, the progressive climate wing wants to see end to the cozy relationship many of elected Democrats have with corporations.

That message made its way on stage when protesters interrupted a speech by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg by yelling “our air is not for sale.”

Back in front of the microphone, Bloomberg quipped in reply: “Only in America could you have environmentalists protesting an environmental conference.”

Steven Mufson contributed to this report.