Gov. Brown signs sweeping climate agreement with 11 international governments 

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2015

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) yesterday announced a pact with a dozen subnational governments from around the world, aimed at spurring ambitious climate commitments at upcoming U.N. negotiations.Officials from regional governments in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States signed an agreement in Sacramento limiting their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to levels that scientists say would stave off catastrophic climate change.

The governments represent a combined population of 100 million people and a gross domestic product of $4.5 trillion, enough to qualify as the fourth-largest economy in the world when grouped together.

“This global challenge requires bold action on the part of governments everywhere,” Brown said. “It’s time to be decisive. It’s time to act.”

The agreement, known as the “Under 2 MOU,” commits the signatories to either a per-capita emissions target of less than 2 tons per person per year by 2050 or an overall target of 80 to 95 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2050.

“[I]nternational efforts on climate change to date have been inadequate to address the scale of the challenge we face,” the agreement says. “Despite limited progress in cooperation among nations, sub-national jurisdictions — including provinces, states, and cities — have led the world in setting ambitious climate targets and taking actions to reduce GHG emissions and protect against climate impacts.”

Like previous pacts that Brown has signed with international governments, including China and Mexico, it steers clear of legally binding language.

“This MOU is neither a contract nor a treaty,” it says.

The list of signatories includes the U.S. states of California, Oregon, Vermont and Washington; the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario; the Mexican states of Baja California and Jalisco; the Brazilian state of Acre; the German state of Baden-Württemberg; the Spanish region of Catalonia; and the country of Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom.

Deal riles fracking critics

The “under 2” pledge has a dual meaning. It refers not only to keeping temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — a level generally agreed as needed by scientists to stave off environmental catastrophe — but also to limiting per-capita emissions in developed countries to no more than 2 tons per year by 2050, the amount needed to reduce emissions to roughly 80 percent below current levels (ClimateWire, March 25).

The agreement envisions collaboration on renewable energy, energy efficiency, electricity grid design, zero-emissions vehicles and infrastructure, waste management, carbon sequestration, emissions monitoring, short-lived climate pollutants, and climate messaging and public outreach.

More signatories are on the way, including the Rhone-Alpes region of France, which is scheduled to ratify the agreement in July at a “World Summit on Climate and Territories” being pitched as the main gathering of subnational governments ahead of the U.N. climate talks in Paris in December.

The Paris talks are the 21st Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, where 193 countries are expected to sign a climate accord that will for the first time include commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions from rich and poor nations alike (ClimateWire, May 14).

The agreement is accompanied by a set of appendices spelling out actions taken by the signatories, including Jalisco, Mexico’s target of 50 percent below 2010 emissions by 2050; Catalonia, Spain’s target of 76,000 electric vehicle sales by 2015; and Baden-Württemberg, Germany’s target of 90 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The agreement drew widespread praise from most environmental groups but also served as fodder for groups that have criticized Brown’s stance on oil drilling, both for its potential to increase emissions and for its water use.

“In the absence of any action by Congress, California is proving that it’s possible to implement policies to reduce harmful emissions while also growing a prosperous economy that is now the seventh largest in the world,” said Adrienne Alvord, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ California and Western states director. “Today’s pact between California and other leaders from around the globe should finally silence those critics of the state’s ambitious climate policies who have argued that it’s better to do nothing than serve as pioneers in fighting carbon pollution.”

But David Braun, co-founder of Americans Against Fracking, said “Governor Brown’s legacy on climate is marred by his support for dangerous oil and gas extraction techniques like fracking.”