Sacramento, California - California is known for many things: its natural beauty, Hollywood, Route 66 and the most famous bridge in the world. It is also known for making history.
When Jerry Brown was sworn in as governor last January, he made history. It was not only his fourth term, he made history by proposing three ambitious climate and clean energy goals to be accomplished by 2030:
- Increase from one-third to 50 percent electricity derived from renewable sources;
- Reduce today's petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent; and
- Double the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner.
Given that the state is also getting recognized for its historic drought which climate change is contributing to, achieving these goals is critical. It will require greenhouse gas emissions reductions from sectors that are the largest polluting sources: transportation accounting for nearly 40 percent, buildings generate 11 percent, and in-state electricity generation is less than 10 percent.
California is hitting near-term goals and reaping economic benefits from doing so. Yet because the world’s eighth largest economy is only responsible for one percent of total global emissions, it is looking beyond its borders to fight global warming.
Governor Brown said it best while addressing the United Nations Climate Summit last September: "I believe that from the bottom up, we can make real impact and we need to join together. We’re signing MOUs with Quebec and British Columbia, with Mexico, with states in China and wherever we can find partners, because we know we have to do it all."
Consider: Quebec and Ontario Canada now participate in California’s historic cap-and-trade market. British Columbia belongs to the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. Continuing efforts to spur further reductions, economic growth and development with Mexico, Governor Brown led a delegation of state officials (I participated as his energy expert), private-sector businesses and nongovernmental organizations last July.
During that trade and economic development mission, California and Mexico signed four MOUs. Three support leveraging shared resources (electricity grid, generation infrastructure and industry relationships) and advancing environmental protections and economic growth that will add to an existing trade in bilateral goods totaling more than $60 billion in 2013.
The climate and energy agreements are significant. When the climate MOU was signed, Mexico's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary Rodolfo Lacy noted that, "Mexico and California have a long and rich history of environmental cooperation, and recognize each other as strategic partners in coping with climate change challenges and protecting and preserving our natural resources. The agreement signed today will take our joint work to a whole new level of cooperation, which will reflect in tangible and concrete results that will inure to our mutual benefit.”
That agreement calls for enhanced cooperation through aligning greenhouse gas reduction programs and strategies, collaborating on fire emergency response along the border, improving air quality by reducing pollution and expanding markets for clean energy technologies. The energy MOU enables the joint promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy and collaboration on low-carbon energy, clean technologies, biofuels and energy efficiency as a way to enhance reliability and affordability of energy supplies.
These subnational actions precede this December’s United Nations conference in Paris where more than 190 countries will be working to strike a new international climate agreement that aims to keep global warming below 2°C. In fact, Mexico and the United States are two countries that are joining forces on climate and clean energy issues and were among the first countries to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) plans to the United Nations in advance of the Paris talks. Mexico plans to cap emissions by 2026 and reduce them by 22 percent by 2030.The U.S. committed to cut emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025.
Addressing one of the greatest threats facing humanity is critical to limiting the environmental, economic and societal costs of a changing climate evidenced through record-breaking temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events, and historic droughts such as the one now plaguing California.
California has long been a test bed for smart environmental policies and, while the state has been an environmental leader for years, the work needed to accomplish our shared goals is just getting started. By joining with Mexico and other countries committing to ambitious reduction targets and finding ways to collaborate that benefit our economies, societies and protect an environment shared by all will help us win this fight. (Word count: 768)
Robert B. Weisenmiller is Chair of the California Energy Commission.