China and California Forge Cooperation on Climate

Governor recently concluded a trip to China, where he met with President Xi Jinping, traveled to Chengdu and Jiangsu, signed clean energy pacts, and promoted cooperation between clean tech companies in California and China. James West at Mother Jones outlines Brown’s activities in China:

He signed climate pacts with regional officials in Chinese provinces Jiangsu and Sichuan, met a slew of Chinese government ministers, and inked a major agreement with the central government to boost direct China-California cooperation on renewable energy, zero-emission vehicles, and low-carbon cities. Brown appeared with energy ministers from 24 countries and the European Union at this week’s Clean Energy Ministerial in Beijing, and his delegation is scheduled to meet 75 Chinese companies interested in working with California.

Another focus in Beijing is a side-event for the “Under2 Coalition,” a group Brown helped found in 2015, which now consists of 170 “sub-national” jurisdictions in 33 countries (including two Chinese provinces) committed to fighting climate change. [Source]

Brown was accompanied by a coalition of California business leaders, some of whom financially supported his trip. He also planned to meet with dozens of Chinese clean tech businesses and local government officials in an effort to forge ties with California, especially in the development of electric cars and high-speed rail. Jessica Meyers reports for the Los Angeles Times on the reception Brown received from China’s top officials:

Brown signed green energy agreements in the southern Chinese cities of Chengdu and Nanjing, opened a California-Beijing clean tech fund and encouraged companies to work with the state on the development of batteries and electric vehicles.

The state-run China Daily newspaper on Wednesday plastered a photo on its front page of Brown and Xi shaking hands. State television ran repeated reels of his trip.

[…] In an interview with The Times, Brown called the trip “a real building block” toward combating climate change. “We not only did things, we’re not only doing things, but we opened up new possibilities to doing things when I go home. So, all in all, I say that’s a positive.”

[…] Many of the freshly signed clean tech agreements have no teeth, and friendly conversations can soon fade from memory. But the visit sent a message that California has no intention of stopping business with China, even if the Trump administration is rethinking its trade relationship with the country. [Source]

Brown’s trip was notable in that it came soon after President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a global pledge to limit carbon emissions, which China and the Obama administration had both taken a lead role in ratifying in 2016, though such an agreement was not easily reached. Brown has been a vocal opponent of Trump’s decision and has led a domestic alliance of states and cities that have pledged to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement. From Akshat Rathe at Quartz:

California is one of 12 states that have joined hands under the United States Climate Alliance, which launched the day of Trump’s Paris announcement and which has pledged to meet or exceed the targets for reducing emissions that the international climate agreement set in December 2015. Mayors of more than 200 US cities are also part of the alliance, and six other states have shown an interest in joining. Brown was one of those who led the creation of the alliance; he had made public his intentions to start a “countermovement” against Trump’s environmental policies back in March.

Xi is not known for setting up meetings with state-level politicians, but Trump’s withdrawal presents him with an opportunity to start leading the world on climate action. “California’s leading, China’s leading,” Brown told reporters at the energy conference where he met Xi. “It’s true I didn’t come to Washington, I came to Beijing.”

Brown has spent the last few days touring China to talk about efforts to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and promote green technologies—both of which Trump has signaled he doesn’t care about. China would also like to learn from California’s experience of running a cap-and-trade program, which puts a price on carbon emissions, and which China is looking to deploy across the country later this year.

“Nobody can stay on the sidelines,” Brown said. “We can’t afford any dropouts in the tremendous human challenge to make the transition to a sustainable future.” [Source]

With the United States withdrawing from a lead role on tackling climate change globally, China is stepping in to fill the void, though how much they want or will be able to achieve remains to be seen. Greenpeace’s Lauri Myllyvirta recently opined on the nuances of China’s new role as a “climate leader” on Twitter, concluding that the idea of one “leader” on climate change is irrelevant as it takes a range of actors to participate to make change:

At The New York Times, Javier C. Hernandez and Adam Nagourney report that Brown’s visit was perfectly timed to help Xi promote the idea of China as the successor to the U.S. in climate leadership:

For Mr. Xi, Mr. Brown’s visit could not have been better timed — allowing him to act on declarations that China would now become a global leader on climate change.

It is unusual for a Chinese president to meet with an American governor in such a formal setting in Beijing. Mr. Xi’s session with Mr. Brown was covered extensively by the government-controlled news media. The state broadcaster featured it as the second story on the evening news, after a segment on China’s ambitions in outer space, an indication of the meeting’s importance to the ruling Communist Party.

At such a volatile moment in Washington, the meeting allowed Mr. Xi to focus on the common ground China shares with some American politicians. China has historically maintained relationships with leaders of parties not in power as a practical matter, in the West and in places like Myanmar and Taiwan.

Gary Locke, a former American ambassador to China and governor of Washington, said Chinese leaders were “well aware” that Mr. Brown was considered a “strong leader” on climate change and a critic of Mr. Trump. [Source]

To learn more about the multifaceted relationship between China and California, read Matt Sheehan’s Chinafornia newsletter.