CALMATTERS: What’s at stake for California as climate conference begins?

October 28, 2021
By Rachel Becker 
It’s what some are calling the last, best chance for world leaders to agree on how to stop catastrophic climate change, and what others say could be fruitless. Either way, California will be well-represented. 
The 26th United Nations climate change conference will draw global leaders to Glasgow, Scotland this week, including a 23-member official delegation from California led by Gov. Gavin Newsom. 
The meeting comes as the extreme impacts of climate change continue to pummel California, which saw torrential rains last month even in the midst of a devastating drought. 
“The stakes are high. It’s an important issue in California,” said Ken Alex, senior policy advisor on climate and environment under former Gov. Jerry Brown and now director of Project Climate at the University of California, Berkeley. Rattling off climate impacts such as drought, flooding, sea level rise and wildfires, Alex added: “It’s very real for California. California is going to continue on, but we need to see the world join us.”
This year’s conference is the first since President Joe Biden took office and rejoined the Paris climate agreement to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution worldwide, marking a seismic shift in the national approach to tackling climate change. It also marks a fundamental change to California’s role, no longer battling a federal foe in former President Donald Trump.  
“Brown did a wonderful job with the wicked man from Washington — with saying, ‘We are different from them, and we have our own policy,’” said state Sen. Bob Wieckowski, who will be attending the climate conference...
California’s lawmakers have plans of their own for the meeting, including a session with members of the Scottish Parliament to discuss the sub-national governments’ climate efforts, Wieckowski said. Many in the legislative contingent said they were eager to bring ideas home. 

“This was not a good year for climate policy legislation in the Legislature, and I’m anxious to go and see what other people are doing, and get energized by their efforts — and see if we can’t bring it back to California,” said Sen. John Laird, a Democrat from Monterey and former Natural Resources Secretary under Brown.

State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Democrat from Long Beach and chairperson of the Senate transportation committee, said her focus will be on clean transportation programs, the largest source of greenhouse gases in the state.

“Transportation has become sort of this really sexy topic, but so important as it pertains to reduction of our (greenhouse gas) emissions,” Gonzalez said. “I’m looking forward to going as chair of transportation and as someone who has a lot of impacts back home.” 

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