UN Climate Summit's Scattered Approach Points Up Importance of California and Jerry Brown

There is some very good news and some very bad news about the current United Nations Climate Summit in Paris.

The good news is two-fold: First, that it is even happening at all in the wake of last month's shocking Friday the 13th jihadist terror attacks on the City of Light, so called for its early electrification and leading role in the Enlightenment that fundamentalist religionists despise. Second, that there will at last be a new global summit climate accord, in stark contrast to the depressing bust that was the UN climate summit of Copenhagen six years ago.

The bad news is that the Paris accord will almost certainly be wholly insufficient to deal with the slowly unfolding planetary crisis.

The pending accord looks to be very lacking both in terms of its impact if fully implemented and in terms of any binding nature to ensure its aims are met.

The further rise in aggregate planetary temperatures must be contained to 2 degrees Celsius or less to try to avert potentially ruinous results. But the targets in play for greenhouse gas reduction -- a rather sloppy looking collection of measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions that have an alarming feel of ad hoc-ism to them -- will reportedly result in a rise of 2.7 to 3.5 degrees Celsius.

Last week, before heading to Paris for the UN Climate Summit, Governor Jerry Brown, noting that "We live in ominous times," said that much of what we do doesn't really matter. But dealing with the existential crisis of climate change does.

And the actual implementation is largely voluntary. That's especially so with regard to the US, where Barack Obama's national progress is being made principally as a result of presidential executive order, thanks to what Governor Jerry Brown calls the "troglodyte" nature of the Republican Party with regard to climate and energy issues. Most overall legislation is impossible due to the once Grand Old Party, the most reactionary major party in the advanced industrial world, which will neither ratify a treaty nor vote to adopt needed cutbacks as it grimly follows the fossil fuel industry agenda.

So the Paris summit is not so much a culmination as it is a very belated if somewhat promising sign of some progress, a set of signposts along the way to keeping the planet fit for human habitation that will have to be continually upgraded.

That's why what Brown -- who called for a doctrine of "Planetary Realism" in his first presidential campaign nearly 40 years ago -- and the host of Californians making the scene in Paris are doing is very important.

As more than 180 nations seemingly at least offer some promise of greenhouse gas reductions and adoption of renewable energy, new vehicles, and energy efficiency measures, the far less than definitive result of Paris will give rise to an oddly rolling advance on the issue, hopefully moving forward in time toward goals that must be reached.

In this regard, Brown's extraordinary efforts positioning California, one of the most advanced industrial economies in the world as its seventh or eighth, depending on the source, largest, as a well-functioning model for the rest of the world are critical.

And so is the movement that Brown began spearheading earlier this year, the so-called "Under 2 MOU" drive. The phrase refers to memoranda of understanding signed by subnational governments around the world to keep their share of greenhouse gas emissions below the 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) rise after which much worse climate changes occur. All signatories agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80 to 95 percent, or limit to 2 metric tons CO2-equivalent per capita, by 2050.

Brown, who has a very extensive speaking and negotiating schedule in Paris, was delayed in arriving by the jihadist attack on San Bernardino, which he explored for himself on site before the Federal Bureau of Investigation took over a case with clear global linkages and implications.

Over the weekend, in an event at the Paris residence of the US ambassador, Brown presided over a set of new signatories to the Under 2 MOU which expanded its scope to nearly a quarter of the world economy in aggregate. He intends to go beyond that by the end of the week.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared with Brown in Paris as the two governors touted the positive effects for California's massive economy from renewable energy and climate change efforts.

Brown, of course, is building on major steps taken by his predecessors, Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis, as I've discussed before.

Schwarzenegger, who enacted the overarching climate change package in 2006, has his own schedule in Paris, where, reports say, at a California delegation luncheon he jokingly referred to Brown and himself as "one mind in two bodies."

But it was Brown, as I forecast a year ago, who delivered tremendously on the promise of his record 4th Inaugural Address by proposing and enacting a 50 percent renewable energy requirement for California's electric power by 2030, a doubling of already nation-leading energy efficiency requirements, and more reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Only his bid to cut oil use in half by 2030 came up short, victim of a new alliance between the oil industry and some Assembly Democrats. But the night, as the saying goes, is still young.

In reality, Brown is ramping up the ramped up efforts of Schwarzenegger and Davis which in turn had their early beginnings in the renewable energy and conservation programs of his first go-round as governor.

I well remember Brown at a gathering of renewable energy advocates inside the administration -- SolarCal, the Energy Commission, Office of Appropriate Technology and so on -- in December 1982 at the stunning seaside Asilomar conference center in Northern California. Brown's ongoing commitment was clear, even if his career path as he prepared to leave the governorship was not.

In June 1992, the morning after his last presidential primary, Brown woke me up (we were both staying at his sister Kathleen's home in the Hollywood Hills) to discuss his next steps. He was the runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination behind eventual President Bill Clinton.

What engaged Brown most was the upcoming first ever UN-sponsored Earth Summit in Rio, where climate change would first figure prominently on the world political stage.

In February 2001, with his former chief of staff Gray Davis embroiled in an electric power crisis spun up by power companies manipulating a very unwise deregulation scheme, we did an intriguing Q&A for the LA Weekly (more to follow on that) on how the crisis contained seeds of opportunity to move anew on renewables and climate change in its aftermath. Which Governor Davis did the following year.

Crises change, but the opportunity for leadership not only remains but increases.

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