Brown administration representatives are busy in Lima trying to consolidate potential agreements with the Germans and multiple "sub-nationals" towards an effective greenhouse gas emissions policy through 2030 on the way to 2050. The failure to establish a subnational platform for states like California at Lima seems to be more a process setback than an obstacle to progress going forward.
Failure of timely coordination between California and the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg may have delayed the announcement of a Green Bloc of states committed to 80 percent reductions from 1990 levels by 2050. California is widely recognized as the eighth-largest economy in the world and a green energy powerhouse.
This failure delays, for a few weeks, the possible announcement of a global Green Bloc, initiated and led by California, organized to demand a meaningful solution to the climate crisis by the 2015 Paris talks. From there, the climate question is likely to become a pivotal issue in the 2016 US elections.
The UN talks are structured in an unusual way, which favors the strategy of forwarding a California model. By the final Paris summit 12 months from now, each of 196 countries is expected to make separate emissions pledges, a reality imposed by the failure of top-down mandates attempted in the past. According to the New York Times, governments will be, "guided by their domestic politics, rather than by the amounts that scientists say are necessary." While enormous political pressure will be generated to block forward momentum, bottom-up movements can play a direct role in pushing their nation states to take bold steps towards a clean energy economy.
The climate debate has moved from the realm of science to that of politics and social movements; from a world of scary but abstract numbers to a world centered on jobs, health care, protection of drinking water and children's lungs. The two worlds are not mutually exclusive, but the climate debate will become more grounded in the realities and language of everyday life.
California's official science-based goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through 2020 already has led to $120 billion in clean energy spending for the next four years of the Brown administration. Under state law there must be "co-benefits" for disadvantaged communities, which means everything from solar rooftops on farmworker housing to the slashing of pollution from congested freeways adjacent to working class neighborhoods.
An immediate challenge for the Brown administration, now that its 2020 goals are being met, is setting a 2030 goal of emissions reductions on the way to 2050. Its a daunting challenge, considering that so-called short-lived climate pollutants (black carbon and methane, for example) are many times more damaging than carbon dioxide, which has been the main target of air quality regulators in the past. For the same reason, the reduction of short-lived pollutants can have immediate beneficial effects on protecting both the climate and, for example, human health.
A key question after Lima is what 2030 goals the Brown administration will set for California. The Obama administration's recently declared goal is a 26-28 percent reduction; China has announced that it will begin reductions no later than 2030; and the Europeans have set a 40 percent target. Therefore to retain global climate leadership, the California goal must be over 40 percent or, as many advocate, in at least the 50 percent range. That may be accompanied by a parallel leap in the percentage of California's electrical power coming from solar and renewables, from the present 2020 goal of 33 percent to more than 50 percent by 2030. Most environmental experts believe those goals are achievable, and many urge a visionary target of a 100 percent renewable economy by 2050. On the other side are fossil fuel and fracking lobbyists, utility executives and some high state officials who fear that a more rapid pace will be destabilizing to their business model and politically indefensible.