Conservation & Science

California steps up its climate leadership

The week of September 10, people from around the world are gathering in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. Convened by the State of California, the Summit brings together leaders—representing nations, states, cities, companies, investors and citizens—to celebrate climate action, and step up their ambitions to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement. Ken Alex, senior policy advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, reflects on  California’s leadership at this pivotal moment.

Ken Alex 015 cropped
Ken Alex is senior policy advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and chair of the Strategic Growth Council.

I grew up in Southern California, and spent lots of time at Seal Beach, Sunset, Huntington, and Bolsa Chica. Those beaches were a central part of my childhood. Today, scientists say they may be gone within 80 years.

Just last month, the state of California issued its most recent evaluation of climate change impact, California’s Fourth Assessment. The report states that as many as two-thirds of Southern California beaches could completely erode by 2100 without large-scale human interventions. By 2050, just 32 years from now, an estimated $17.9 billion worth of residential and commercial buildings across the state could be inundated by sea-level rise.

We already know the impact of fires, heat and drought, exacerbated by climate change, on our state. Climate change is real. It is dramatic. It impacts all of us. Fortunately, action is at hand—and more is on the way.

Focusing on solutions

San Francisco’s accessible public transportation system helps reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

This week, San Francisco plays host to the Global Climate Action Summit, a world convening focused on solutions. The Summit will be chaired by California Governor Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change; Anand Mahindra, chair of the Mahindra Group in India; Jayathma Wickramanayake, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; and Xie Zhenhua, special representative for the climate change affairs of China. States, cities, NGOs, students, businesses, investors, and other parts of civil society from around the world will present actions in progress, investments, successes, and pathways to greater emission reduction.

California’s actions and commitments will be, literally, on center stage. The world’s fifth largest economy continues to grow as we incorporate world-leading climate action. Last month, state officials announced that California had reached its 2020 goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, four years ahead of schedule. This encouraging progress sets the stage for more significant benchmarks to come, including a 40percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and 100-percent renewable energy by 2045.

A blueprint for action

California’s 2017 Scoping Plan sets out the most comprehensive path to economy-wide climate action anywhere in the world. The multi-faceted approach includes:

San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm near Palm Springs, CA. Photo by Kit Conn via Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Global cooperation is critical

California’s progress on multiple fronts is encouraging, but our state represents less than two percent of world emissions. While the focus of action is within the state’s borders, California also needs partnerships, both in-state and beyond.

The world must work together to solve the climate crisis and keep warming under 2 degrees Celsius, the target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

California’s cap-and-trade market is linked with Quebec, but adding more jurisdictions will increase its impact. China has now started its nationwide cap-and-trade market, with a significant assist from California. In conjunction with the World Bank, California is also working with jurisdictions in North and South America on expanding carbon markets in the region.

We need to target the most effective and most promising climate actions, and speed their adoption. Partnerships across public and private sectors, and across borders, can help scale up solutions quickly.

For example, the Under2 Coalition (which California helped establish), which has over 200 sub-national signatories and endorsers across every continent and every economic type—from rainforest to agricultural to industrial juggernaut and everything in between. Jurisdictions that seek stronger climate action represent 1.3 billion people and 40 percent of global GNP. Another example is the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California, which focuses on actions jurisdictions can take to protect coastal ecosystems.

Climate solutions require coordinated action across the public and private sectors, and across borders.

The Under2 Coalition, Ocean Acidification Alliance and similar organizations represent a significant opportunity to build political will and scale, essential for establishing pilot programs, building templates and strengthening our responses to climate change.

We can save beaches in Southern California and around the world. We can limit the impacts on , ecosystems large and small, from coral reefs to farmland to forests. We can reduce fire risk and the worst impacts of storms, droughts, and heat.

But we must act with purpose and alacrity. We must act now.

Learn more about California’s integrated plan for addressing climate change.


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