World leaders just met in Madrid, Spain as scientists shared new indications of our planet in crisis. The report is cause for new alarm and concern, but as I experienced in Madrid, it is also galvanizing new urgency across the globe.
On behalf of Governor Newsom, CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld, California Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister and I helped to lead a delegation of California government, business and non-profit leaders to the COP25 in Madrid to share our Golden State’s story of climate leadership. Four key climate leaders from our State Senate and Assembly also helped lead our efforts in Madrid.
California is part of an ambitious coalition of subnational states, provinces, and cities that are taking aggressive action to combat climate change. While we don’t play a role in the formal negotiations among nation-states at the center of the COPs – the “Conference of Parties” in United Nations speak— our subnational governments are showing how to tackle the climate crisis through real progress on the ground.
We are not going to save the planet without bold leadership from both national and subnational governments. The Under 2 Coalition, the US Climate Alliance and C40 Mayors highlighted this subnational leadership at the COP.
Here are seven brief reflections I have on the COP convening:
- While more global progress on emission reductions is urgently needed, both national and subnational governments across the world are increasing ambition in their climate targets. My colleague Amanda Hansen, a veteran of COP meetings from her past work at the US Department of State, observed just how far some (but not all!) governments have come in this target-setting. Many leaders at the COP publicly acknowledged the need to move to climate neutrality by mid-century.
- Amidst social unrest in Latin America and across the world, discussions emphasized the critical importance of a just transition to cleaner economies that improve opportunities and prosperity for all California’s commitment to supporting disadvantaged communities was discussed widely.
- “Implementation:” was a watch-word in Madrid, with leaders intensely focused on learning from each other how to achieve climate targets. California’s experience growing jobs and our economy while reducing GHG emissions (and meeting our 2020 targets four years early) is a powerful model that inspires the rest of the world. We spent a lot of time in Madrid sharing details on the policies, programs, and investments that have enabled our successes to date.
- California can also learn a lot from others. In a discussion on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for example, I learned that Pacific island cultures have been using sophisticated MPAs for millennia and have well-established indigenous names for different types of protected areas. These island nations are doing advanced work on coastal resilience that we can and should emulate.
- Climate resilience is increasingly part of the global dialogue. Leaders across the world are taking actions that both reduce emissions and protect people and nature against climate impacts. And for good reason; places like California are already experiencing intense climate impacts such as mega-fires and worsening drought. The historic silos of “climate mitigation” and “climate adaptation” seem increasingly irrelevant in the global dialogue.
- Likewise, nature-based solutions that emphasize sustainable management of our forests, farms and natural places are a central point of discussion. I was particularly eager to learn how these strategies are being deployed, given the tremendous potential of California’s natural and working lands to sequester carbon, avoid GHG emissions, and build the resilience of people and nature to the impacts of climate change.
- This meeting was termed a “Blue COP” thanks to its focus on oceans, and the dialogue didn’t disappoint. We shared our California experiences—highlighted in this great report developed by our non-profit partners—built stronger alliances on topics like ocean acidification and initiated a new Pacific Rim Ocean Climate Action Partnership (PROCAP), that will increase ambition on climate action across the world’s largest ocean.
California benefits from a remarkable set of leaders across business, academia, and non-profit groups who are committed to a carbon-neutral California for all. These voices were aligned in Madrid and closely listened to by the international community. Together, we are collectively showing the world what needs to be done and learning a lot along the way.
There is so much important work ahead given the state of the climate crisis. Onward!