October 29, 2015 - From the October/November, 2015 issue

China & US City Leaders Sign Historic Bilateral Climate Declaration in LA

Mayor Eric Garcetti and Governor Jerry Brown welcomed mayors and governors from across China and the United States to Los Angeles in September to sign the US-China Climate Leaders Declaration. The document focuses on the role of sub-national governments in setting ambitious climate-change goals and then meeting those targets. Here, TPR presents edited excerpts from a press event at the US-China Climate Leaders Summit, featuring a collection of US mayors and Governor Brown.

Eric Garcetti

"We came together today with a unified voice—not just in accepting the science, not just in identifying the problem, but also in moving forward with concrete change." -Mayor Eric Garcetti

Eric Garcetti (Mayor of Los Angeles, California): Last fall, China and US national leaders came together to make history—to say that no longer, on either side of the Pacific, would we deny what is happening with climate change, but we’d accept it and move forward. One part of that agreement said that mayors and subnational leaders would do their part.

I happened to be in China about a week later. I said to my fellow mayors in China: Let’s do this—we’d love to host you here in Los Angeles. I then reached out to some of my fellow American mayors and said the same. I want to thank the White House for their strong work to make this happen.

We came together today with a unified voice—not just in accepting the science, not just in identifying the problem, but also in moving forward with concrete change. We’re taking the sense of urgency in Governor Brown’s speech, and the passion that I know we all feel, to bring more than 600 leaders here today to Los Angeles from the United States and China to answer this call to action.

That commitment is the foundation of the US-China Climate Leaders Declaration, which we just signed moments ago. Through this bilateral agreement, we’ve now laid down the foundation to hold United States cities and states accountable for reaching critical emission reduction targets.

These will be determined state-by-state, city-by-city, and, in some cases, county-by-county. But there is one constant: We will not only meet President Obama’s national emissions goal—we are going to surpass it. In Los Angeles we have agreed to unprecedented reductions, including commitments to get off coal by 2025—in a town that was almost two-thirds coal just a few years ago—and to achieve an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

We’ve agreed to share, in Los Angeles, some of our best practices. I just signed MOUs with Beijing and Shenzhen as well.

Today we also announced the Alliance of the Peaking Pioneer Cities, or APPC. These are cities in China that have agreed to peak their emissions before the already-ambitious Chinese goal of 2030. Some of them are going to do it as early as 2020.

That is real history that we’re making. This is huge for the environment and it’s huge for China. It should inspire other countries in the developing world to say that it’s possible to grow and also hit those peaks.

When they do, that impact cannot be overstated. The cities committing to this represent 25 percent of China’s urban population. Just to put it in context, they have the same CO2 emissions as the entire country of Brazil. This agreement alone is the equivalent of capping an entire nation’s emissions. That underscores what we can accomplish here. 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases are under our direct control, or at least influence. That is why we’ve come together as a group.

Jerry Brown (Governor of California): If you look at the media or at political gatherings, climate change doesn’t register as the big issue that it is. Today, it is reflected in the commitment of these mayors and governors from both sides of the Pacific. We’re taking it seriously, and we have to. The inertia is unimaginably powerful, and so we need an action commensurate to the inertia that the world faces. That action is coming in small but steady and increasing steps.

This is the lead-up to what will happen in Seattle, then in New York in connection with the UN Conference, and then in Paris in December. These are very fateful days, wherein the fate of the future is definitely being decided.

When it comes to large or cataclysmic events or profound evil, it’s very hard to grasp. Yet if we don’t grasp it, we have no ability to prevent it.

That’s what we’re all about today: preventing breakdowns environmentally and socially. This is not just about clean air—this is about the stability of societies and human civilization.

Whether it’s in 30 years or 70 years is not really the point. The point is that we’re deciding things that irreversibly set in motion a chain of causation that will affect millions of people—maybe tens of millions. Even today, it is very foreseeable that certain island nations will be wiped out. The fact that they’re small in no way negates the importance, integrity, and value of their particular society, history, memories, and relationships. Those societies are gone if we can’t get on a new path in terms of how our economy is fueled.

I’m very glad to be part of this, and I expect that every year there will be additional people signing on. The exchanges, research, practices, and monitoring will lead to the goal. We just have to keep doing it and intensifying it as we go along.

Mayor Garcetti: Los Angeles is the first US city, and Zhenjiang was the first Chinese city, to sign Governor Brown’s historic Under 2 MOU. It’s about putting policies in place to prevent the rise of two degrees Centigrade. Thank you, Governor Brown, for your leadership.

Press Question: Governor Brown, you talked about the political situation in Washington. How do you hope to handle members of your own party in Sacramento?

Governor Brown: I wouldn’t compare Washington and Sacramento. In the California Legislature, moderate Democrats, as well as the other Democrats, voted for the most far-reaching renewable energy and efficiency bill that California’s ever had: committing the state to 50-percent renewable energy for electrical utilities and to doubling our rate of efficiency in fixing our buildings. This is huge.

Now, it didn’t cover petroleum in trucks and cars. But that is a program that needs careful delineation, which the California Air Resources Board will deal with over the next year to year and a half.

We know how to go from 25 percent renewable electricity to 50 percent. We’ve looked at that very carefully. By the way, all the utilities in California opposed that. The electric companies said: You can’t get to 20 percent.

Now we’re at 25 percent, and we’re going to 50. In the same way, the oil companies said: We can’t do this.

Yes they can, and yes they will. But you don’t just throw up a flag and say: We win.

This is going to require a very slow, steady procedure. We will get it done. It would’ve been good to have that codification, but we’re still on track and we’ll do everything we can.

It’s not just in the Legislature. You’ve got to win the minds and hearts all over California and all over the country, if not all over the world. There’s a certain amount of political pollution, but I wouldn’t identify it as existing so much in California.

Press Question: Do you plan to watch the debate tomorrow night, and what do you plan to be listening for from Republican candidates in terms of this issue?

Governor Brown: I’ve already written a letter to these fellows and ladies telling them that they should respond.

Republican presidential candidates have failed to respond to the profoundly serious threat that climate change represents to the people of the world, and that’s nothing less than a dereliction of duty.

Jim Brainard (Mayor of Carmel, Iowa): Speaking as a Republican in one of the most Republican areas of the country, our city of 85,000 has great climate-change policies in place. In our city, I don’t know one person who votes Republican who wants to breathe dirty air or drink dirty water and not leave the planet a better place than we found it.

Unfortunately, our party leadership is listening too much to some of the pollution coming off the talk radio and TV shows. They need to listen a lot more to the people they represent.

Traditionally—starting with Teddy Roosevelt setting aside millions of acres of parkland, to Eisenhower setting up the Arctic Reserve, to Nixon’s work on the EPA and the Migratory Bird, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Acts—the Republican Party has a tremendous history of leadership on the environment. We need to get back to that.

It’s a fight within the party, certainly. But it would be improper to think that the rank-and-file Republicans aren’t behind this effort.

Press Question: Governor Brown, speaking of “hearts and minds,” it’s likely that this conference will not lead the news tomorrow, although it’s possible. What’s likely to lead are issues related to the California’s wildfires and to the record rainfall Southern California had today. Do you believe there’s a connection?

Governor Brown: My belief is not the critical variable here. Very critical scientists have produced research papers after peer-reviewed research that identifies the increased intensity of the drought—the presence of higher temperatures combining with the absence of rain. The science would say there is definitely a connection with the changing climate.

But to try to connect each event with this general phenomenon called climate change is not really the point. We know, precisely, that the parts per million of greenhouse gases is going up. It’s over 400 parts per million. We know that over long periods of time, that level of greenhouse gases is associated with temperature, rising sea level, and other extreme weather events. The science is very clear.

When we look at these forest fires, or even the intense cyclones, the point is not to ask whether climate change caused them. These kinds of unpleasant and dangerous events will become more frequent over the next years and decades. The goal is to figure out ways to avoid it.


Press Question: This question is for any mayor working on local economic development programs in your city. Are you worried about any larger trade interests or agreements that might stall your local economic initiatives?

Ed Murray (Mayor of Seattle, Washington): The City of Seattle and the City of Shenzhen signed an agreement to work on environmental issues as well as economic development issues. Part of our economy is based on creating clean industries and creating jobs, as is the city of Shenzhen’s. You have an information exchange around these issues as well as an economic exchange to build this new economy.

Greg Stanton (Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona): That question is similar to asking about juxtaposing economic development with sustainability. I think most of the mayors up here would disagree with that juxtaposition—in fact, just the opposite.

If you’re trying to build a more innovative economy with highways, jobs, technology, science, and bioengineering, those kinds of companies are attracted to places with a strong commitment to doing our part on climate change.

You’re juxtaposing long-term decision-making on climate change with short-term decision-making on economic development. All of us owe it to the people of our cities to deliver a good credit rating. Credit agencies are looking at cities that are strong on climate resiliency. Those of us that are will be at a competitive advantage—not just in the long term, but also in the short run—for the right kind of jobs that we’re trying to bring to our communities.

Ralph Becker (Mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah): We’ve been listed as the number one job-creating city in the country. Our biggest changes are coming around sustainable industry and sustainable practices. We’re exploding with the solar energy business. I saw numbers that said there are more people today involved in the solar industry than there are today in oil and gas, which has been a major industry in Utah for a long, long time.

How do we address these issues so that our publics understand what’s going on? It is not tough in a place like Salt Lake City. We’re the second-most arid state in the country. We rely on snowpack for our water supply in the latter months of the year. The snowpack is diminishing. We’re having to work every day on how to provide water for the people who live in our valleys.

Whether it’s the ski industry, which is being impacted and is taking the lead on recognizing climate change as affecting the core of their business, or whether it’s us in the business of providing water for our valley, people get it. It’s our job to explain it.

Carlos Gimenez (Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Florida): We are ground zero for sea-level rise, probably in the world. We’re the most at risk. If we don’t take into consideration economic development and if we don’t have a resilient economy in our community, we will not be able to initiate mitigating and adaptive strategies to combat sea-level rise in our communities.

The biggest focus we have is the creation of good-paying, clean jobs that will lead to a strong economy, so that we as a community can take steps to mitigate and also adapt to sea-level rise in Miami.

Press Question: Noting that there are still a lot of climate-change deniers, how is the rest of the world supposed to follow these initiatives if, in the US, politicians are still at odds about the mere fact of climate change?

Mayor Garcetti: We’ve got Republicans and Democrats here. We’ve got people from east, west, north, and south. We’ve got local leaders and statewide leaders. We can’t afford to play politics. We have to get to action.

The rhetoric from our country years ago was very different from what it is today. China had a different perspective just two or three years ago. We are modeling good behavior.

Governor Brown: You may have noticed that the climate-denying premier of Australia was removed by a conservative party that chose a new leader. The leader spoke yesterday very clearly about climate change and the need to take real and significant action. This will transcend particular political parties because it’s based on science and it affects everyone. Sooner rather than later, more and more people will come on board.

Kasim Reed (Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia): I’d add that the voices that are deniers are increasingly trailing voices. That’s a good thing.

The action is with subnational governments in the US and China. Because of the number of people who live in cities in the world and because everybody is moving toward cities, the work we’re going to do here today and tomorrow can get something done that impacts real lives. It gives us the ability to actually deliver concrete results.

We also need to come to grips with the fact that there are times, in both our countries, where issues have to be fought out. That’s how I feel about folks who are deniers of climate change. They’re going to be the ones who are standing on the side as our snowcaps melt. Certainly because of all the video in the world, they are going to have an unhappy end.

Frank Cownie (Mayor of Des Moines, Iowa): We listen to the debate among people running for leader of the United States of America and how they present on that issue. A great number of them totally deny the issue.

Those who are slightly educated turn to the argument of the economy: We’re going to kill jobs if we don’t have more coal plants.

With the help of citizens of Iowa, who protested over coal plant construction, we blocked the coal plants. MidAmerican Energy, the provider for our citizens in our metropolitan area, has switched now from coal plant production to getting 40 percent of their power from wind. Green job opportunities are out there.

Let’s hope the media presents the reality of where we need to go and how we have to get there. Hopefully we’re going to have an ever-growing number of local leaders that’ll help push. For instance, in Iowa, with only 3 million people, we’ve got 947 cities and towns and 99 counties. We’ve got a lot of political selling to do to make sure that everybody understands what we’re up against.

Press Question: With the agreement signed and trying for an accord on climate change, what is the most important thing an individual constituent can do to affect climate change on a personal scale?

Annise Parker (Mayor of Houston, Texas): It’s important to have mayors and governors engaged. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in Washington. We have administrative and executive authority. We can make things happen in our own cities. Since the vast majority of Americans live in urban areas today, by taking action in urban areas, we make the changes happen in the world—whether or not our national governments listen.

We have a saying in Texas: You don’t argue with a fencepost, you just walk around it. So I don’t pay attention to what’s happening in the presidential campaigns or the climate deniers. We just go right around it.

We focus on the bottom line. A lot of the things that we do as cities are great for the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we can also do them in a way that is good for the city’s bottom line and directly saves money.

An individual citizen can educate him or herself as to the options. You can make consumer choices directly, in terms of where you purchase your energy. I’m the mayor of Houston. It is the oil and gas capital of the planet. And yet we are the number one municipal purchaser of renewable energy. Texas has more wind generation than any other state in America. It is not that we say: We’re all oil and gas forever.

We’re leading by example. You can make those same consumer decisions in the cars you drive or where you choose to live—whether it’s close in proximity to the place you want to work.

It’s about helping Americans see that they do have those choices. Their individual decisions can add up to big differences.

Cindy Lerner (Mayor of Pinecrest, Florida): Pinecrest, Florida is known as the small city with the big reputation—because we have been a leader and will continue to be a leader in advancing an understanding, not only among our own residents, but among all of the cities in Miami-Dade County.

We are the first responders. The cities are the ones who not only have to provide smooth streets, eliminate potholes, and build drains that will actually drain in record-level storms, but also have to plan and be prepared for the future that’s coming.

Southeast Florida is ground zero for the adverse impacts of sea-level rise and storm surge. As a result, we’ve come together—four counties, which represent millions of residents and a significant number of businesses—to create a template for a regional climate action plan. Through that, we are working to advance the infrastructure that we know we’ll need.

At the same time, we’re informing and educating our residents and our business owners on their responsibility. We create opportunities through schools, universities, and our own community outreach and engagement. There are a lot of bad habits that people just need to recognize are bad habits, and then change to become more conservation-minded.

We have a new green economy through the PACE program we’ve borrowed from California. If we could just borrow the governor and the Legislature in California, as well, we’d be in tremendous shape in Florida.


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