‘We are a separate nation’ — Brown touts state’s influence in global climate arena 

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, March 6, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO — California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) yesterday made clear that the Golden State sees itself as an international superpower in the climate policy arena.

Brown made explicit this underlying assumption in his state’s climate agenda yesterday at a discussion of a wide-ranging 2013 state agreement with China to explore carbon-trading, electric vehicles, building efficiency and other areas.

“It is a little bold to talk about the China-California partnership as though we were a separate nation. But we are a separate nation,” he said, to applause and laughter.

Since taking office in 2010, Brown has signed agreements with the national governments of China and Mexico, as well as a subnational agreement with Guangdong province and a regional pact with Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia to work on West Coast low-carbon fuel and energy policies.

His predecessor, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), signed agreements with states in Brazil and Mexico and is now chairman of a climate nonprofit that counts some 45 regional governments as members.

“This is a very unique environment, where we, without even realizing it or planning it, have risen above the partisan divisions that are tearing apart the country, and we’ve been able to keep our eye on the ball to get this stuff done,” Brown said. “And we’re still doing stuff. Energy efficiency, storage.”

A bigger role for Calif. at Paris climate talks?

Brown praised the steps President Obama has taken on climate change, which include the sweeping Clean Power Plan proposal released last year by U.S. EPA for states to collectively reduce emissions from power plants 30 percent by 2030.

“If we look to Washington, yes, the executive branch under President Obama is making some very bold moves to deal with climate change and renewable energy,” Brown said. “But it’s not enough for the global challenge.”

The Obama administration has been supportive of California’s climate diplomacy efforts, another top state official said.

“Oh, they’re very aware of it, and absolutely OK with it,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, which is in charge of implementing the state’s goal of reaching 1990 emissions levels by 2020 under the 2006 law A.B. 32. “The White House knows what we’re up to; the State Department knows what we’re up to.”

Nichols said she thinks California will have a bigger role in the upcoming U.N. climate talks in Paris, citing draft documents related to the meeting that she said envision an emphasis on subnational activities as a “key building block” for achieving countrywide pledges.

“Because of that, I think we will also be playing a larger role than we have in some of the recent talks,” she said.

A call for more out-of-state renewables

Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu also appeared at the forum and praised California’s leadership, saying it should have a bigger seat at the table in international climate negotiations.

“It is a good thing that in Paris we’re beginning to say, ‘Don’t look only at the central governments,'” he said. “Look what we’re doing at the state level, the city level, that adds up to a national movement.”

Chu also offered some constructive criticism, recommending that the state embrace renewable power from outside its borders. The state’s current rules for its renewable portfolio standard reserve larger quotas for power that can be easily transmitted to in-state customers. Right now, California gets about 20 percent of its solar and 50 percent of its wind power from outside the state.

“Quite candidly, there are other places that have tremendous solar, and better wind,” he said. “Sometimes building in California can be more expensive — more slow. Longer permitting times.”

Yesterday’s event was a forum on climate collaboration between California and China, organized to highlight the work the two governments have been doing since well before Brown signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s National Development and Reform Commission in 2013 (ClimateWire, Sept. 16, 2013).

The agreement committed the two jurisdictions to cooperating on “activities to implement carbon emissions trading systems and other market-based instruments,” as well as actions that reduce buildings’ energy consumption, increase the use of electrified transportation and otherwise “mitigate carbon emissions while enabling sustained economic growth.”

One of the nonprofits that have been involved in the collaboration, the New York-based Asia Society, put out a report detailing meetings and employee exchanges between a number of government agencies, nonprofits and corporations.

The report was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; the Energy Foundation; the Annenberg Foundation Trust; the University of Calfornia, San Diego; and Salesforce.com.