Climate summit sends a message to the world

Friday, September 14, 2018

Leaders from around the world on Wednesday converged in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. The gathering should remind other nations that although the present administration in Washington may be hostile to combating climate change, many Americans will continue the fight and are prepared to lead when Donald Trump is no longer president.

Gov. Jerry Brown is co-hosting the event with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Many of the usual climate celebrities will attend — your Al Gores and Alec Baldwins — and so will many climate scientists. But the real goal of the summit is to bring together leaders who can share ideas about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and constrain global temperature increases to manageable levels.

The leaders in question aren’t presidents and secretaries of states, though. Rather, mayors, governors and their global equivalents were on the invite list.

That difference is important. Plenty of global climate talks occur among nations, and they don’t always wind up as effective as anyone would like. The Paris climate accord, for example, was not as ambitious as it could have been, and then the president pulled the United States out anyway.

Mayors and governors can make a real difference on the ground. Indeed, California, with its greenhouse gas reduction goals and embrace of green energy, has strategies worth emulating. Greenhouse gas emissions in California are at their lowest level since 1990, and the state is ahead of schedule to reach its 2020 and 2030 emissions targets. Californians have done that while continuing to grow the economy, which now ranks fifth largest in the world.

Not that California has a monopoly on good ideas. The state can learn from what others have accomplished.

The summit will be all the stronger for having invited businesses to the table. Look for Silicon Valley companies to tout their green cred and for other companies to showcase the latest technology that reduces emissions.

Corporations are often cast as the enemy of climate measures, as needing to be regulated and coerced into action. Bringing them into the conversation could flip that narrative and make them partners. It’s not certain to happen, but it’s worth a try.

San Francisco being what it is, protesters were almost inevitable, and some environmentalists have already announced plans to take to the streets. Their biggest complaint is that Brown is too cozy with the oil and gas industry. Perhaps they haven’t noticed that he just signed legislation that will block drilling expansion off the California coast and phase out fossil fuels from electricity generation by 2045.

The most important part of the summit, however, is the message that it sends to the rest of the world. If America writ large under Trump is not interested in fighting climate change, that doesn’t mean states and cities must sit on the sidelines and watch the world spiral into climate disaster.

And while all those leaders and celebrities are in the area, we hope they take a daytrip north. There’s great wine to sample, of course, but also the aftermath of horrible fires fueled by the warmer, dryer weather that results from climate change. It’s something they should experience firsthand as a reminder of why their work and this summit are so important.

A Guest Editorial