Governor Jerry Brown has cancelled potential plans to attend the Lima Climate Change Conference, in part because the United Nations and United States negotiators have failed to define an institutional role for "subnational entities", the very states like California that have driven the pace of environmental policy from the bottom up.
Nevertheless, the Lima talks are expected to result in a skeletal draft agreement in preparation for a final one a year from now, in Paris in December 2015. The agreement is likely to fall short of the goals set by many climate scientists, but be better than the failures of past efforts in Copenhagen. The goal is greenhouse gas emission reductions combined with a global Green Fund to help developing countries mitigate the cost of climate damage and a transition to clean energy.
The current Lima climate talks are a stage for Latin America to voice the demands of developing countries for equity in the process. For US environmentalists the talks are another chance to change the emphasis in the direction of environmental justice. The presence of California Senator Pro Tem Kevin de Léon and Brown administration officials like EPA Secretary Matt Rodriguez will represent the demands for climate justice, as well as emissions cuts.
The chance for a global breakthrough became real when the US was joined by China in pledges to cut emissions from coal plants (the US by up to 28 percent by 2025 and China a decrease beginning by 2030). The Obama administration also is issuing rules to ozone emissions and finalizing regulations on methane leaks, all resisted heavily by the incoming Republican Congress.
Therefore it is no wonder that the focus of environmental debate is shifting to the federal level as the UN climate talks head from Lima to Paris next December. Whatever the outcome of the coming Washington battles, including a renewed XL pipeline fight, they are likely to be a foundation of the 2016 national elections.
There is no national consensus possible on climate policy in the near future, however, with 26 individual states remaining dependent on coal, and climate-denying Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) holding the gavel on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. If Obama's proposed regulations are upheld by the conservative Supreme Courts their implementation will meet heavy resistance by coal states in a pattern of resembling Obamacare.
Public action at state levels, therefore, will continue be the catalyst for whatever climate policies are adopted in either Lima or Washington. The California clean energy model is the catalyst for other states and for federal regulations historically. That model has steadily advanced the clean energy economy, created 200,000 current green jobs, lowered utility bills, and now requires co-benefits for disadvantaged communities (SB 535, de Léon)
California is the locomotive on the US clean energy train. The more California advances towards the UN goals of emissions reductions, the more California offsets the drag caused by the lagging coal states. The new Obama climate goals, 26-28 percent decreased emissions by 2025, are roughly a midpoint on the policy spectrum of a divided United States.