Bypassing Trump on climate action

California summit brings together groups determined to meet decarbonisation targets
Kunda Dixit in San Francisco
September 10, 2018
Photo: KUNDA DIXIT

President Donald Trump may have announced that he intends to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, but the United States is still in.

US cities, states and big companies like the ones here in Silicon Valley have pledged to do even more to keep to decarbonisation targets agreed to in Paris in 2015, and have come together in an informal coalition calling itself ‘We Are Still In’.

As the United States loses its leadership role in international negotiations, the country’s agenda is being carried by this unofficial group in events like the Global Climate Action Summit that is bringing 3,000 delegates from around the world to San Francisco this weekend.

“The Paris climate accord is alive and well in the US because of this strong alliance of American voices from businesses, cities, states and universities committed to meeting greenhouse gas emission targets,” says Adam Stern, executive director of Acterra which works on local solutions to global warming in the Bay Area.

The Global Climate Action Summit is being co-hosted by California Governor Jerry Brown and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Also attending are former US Vice President Al Gore, Hollywood actors Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Leonardo DeCaprio as well as corporate leaders, climate scientists and researchers.

This is ‘track two’ on climate action and involves non-state and sub-national actors from all over the world. In the run-up to the Summit, Governor Brown on Monday signed an executive order to make California carbon neutral by 2045. He also signed bills last week to block new oil drilling off the shores of his state in defiance of the Trump government’s move to open California waters to oil drilling.

Brown set up the Under2 Coalition that has got 200 local and national governments around the world committed to keeping global temperature rise to under 2°C by 2050 as agreed to in Paris.

Besides the conference panels, the Summit will have demonstrations, side events including workshops on climate-friendly food industry, exhibits and tours. The  Greenpeaceship Arctic Sunrise has docked at the port here to draw attention to climate action.

Demonstrators urging action on climate change in San Francisco on Sunday in defiance of the Trump Administration's roll back from the Paris Climate Accord. Photo: EMILY JOVAIS / EAST BAY NEWS

It is ironic that the Summit is being held in a country that is led by a climate denier. However California has some of the most progressive legislation on emission controls. Brown has set in motion action that will reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels in the next 12 years.

In fact, Brown, Bloomberg and other Americans are trying to bypass Trump to try to save the planet from the catastrophic effects of climate change during a year when the planet has faced unprecedented extreme weather events.

Jerry Brown himself said in an interview this week to the San Jose Mercury News: “The Republicans, the deniers in Washington, the president, they are really deviant to the international norm. It’s important that America maintain its climate actions through the states and the cities, private organisations and non-profits. We can’t just let Trump undermine and sabotage America’s part.”

The new Google headquarters that is 100% powered by solar panels on the roof. Google and other Silicon Valley companies are leading the shift to zero carbon policies. Photo: GOOGLE

Silicon Valley tech companies are also taking a lead in green business. The Tesla plant is located in Fremont is producing electric cars, including the latest Model 3. Apple’s new futuristic headquarter building and its outlets  derive 100% of its power from solar panels on the roof, half the electricity at Facebook’s open office in Palo Alto comes from renewable sources. Google last year said it was sourcing all its energy at its offices here and worldwide from solar and wind energy. 

Says Adam Stern of Acterra: “Despite President Trump’s efforts to withdraw the US from its climate commitments, the Summit will demonstrate an irrepressible momentum among businesses, cities and other sub-national governments, and civic leaders to fulfill the goals of the Paris climate accord.”

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