California Leads Subnationals in Setting a High Bar for COP21 Negotiators

Mary Nichols, Chair of the CA Air Resources Board presents to UCLA & Vermont Law Students (Photo courtesy of Tracy Bach)

Mary Nichols, Chair of the CA Air Resources Board presents to UCLA & Vermont Law Students (Photo courtesy of Tracy Bach)

The VLS delegation had the privilege yesterday to attend an intimate presentation given by Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, and Ken Alex, the Director of the Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Planning and Research. Mary and Ken candidly addressed a group of professional students and professors from UCLA and Vermont Law School while a documentary crew followed Mary’s every move and captured the group’s reaction.

These representatives of the California state government offer a surprisingly powerful presence at COP21. The commitments and strategies of subnational groups have been a major topic of conversation this week since these groups, including U.S. states, represent key stakeholders in the movement to address climate change. According to some sources, “in order to keep global temperatures from rising 2˚C by 2050, the world needs to cut 8 to 10 gigatonnes of carbon emissions by 2020.” Our mitigation goal will be even higher if the negotiators ultimately agree on maintaining temperature rise at or below 1.5˚C. Yet, the U.N. Environmental Program reports that agreements between subnational governments to reduce emissions could prevent 3 gigatonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere by 2020. Cooperation and ambition amongst subnationals is therefore crucial to reaching our COP21 goals.

Governor Brown speaks for subnationals (From: the Office of Governor Brown)

Governor Brown speaks for subnationals (From: the Office of Governor Brown)

California is a particularly important piece of the puzzle. According to Ken Alex, the state represents 1.3% of global emissions and has a larger economy than 188 of the 195 countries that have ratified the UNFCCC. The state therefore has a large role to play, and so far, it has exceeded expectations. California is leading a group of more than 123 subnational jurisdictions (including Vermont), which represent $9.9 trillion in GDP and 720 million people, in pursuing more ambitious goals than those identified in the anticipated Paris Outcome. This group of signatories to the Under 2 MOU is aiming to reduce emissions 80 to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050, or to achieve a two tons per capita CO2 emissions limit.

Under Governor Brown and Mary Nichols’ leadership, California is making progress toward addressing these goals. The California cap and trade scheme is gaining traction, partnering with Quebec and, hopefully soon, with other states. The state is also the only one in the country allowed to implement its own, more rigorous, mobile air emissions standards. These standards have subsequently been adopted in other international cities, including in Beijing.

From: LA Times & Christophe Petit Tesson (EPA)

Governor Brown and former Governor Schwarzenegger meet to discuss climate change. (From: LA Times & Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA)

To promote California’s progress and inspire other global leaders, several California representatives have presented at COP21 over the last several days. Governor Jerry Brown welcomed new signatories to the Under 2 MOU in the German Pavilion at Le Bourget. Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke on behalf of Austria at the beginning of the week, and later conducted meetings with the current governor of California. Other state representatives, like Mary Nichols, are also participating in discussions throughout the event, including in a session dedicated entirely to California at the U.S. Pavilion.

We will continue to track the inspiring action of subnationals throughout the event, particularly those of U.S. states like California and Vermont.