We mentioned this in brief yesterday, but in some pretty big news, California Governor Jerry Brown has just signed a pact with China's Ministry of Science and Technology to cooperate on climate research and invest in low-carbon energy sources, with California acting essentially as nation-state in its own negotiations with the world's larges emitter of greenhouse gases. The New York Times refers to Brown as "a de facto envoy from the United States on climate change at a time when President Trump has renounced efforts to battle global emissions."
As the Associated Press reports, in addition to cutting separate deals with a pair of regional ministers, Brown also held a closed-door meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in which the two leaders "pledged to expand trade between California and China with an emphasis on so-called green technologies that could help address climate change."
"Nobody can stay on the sidelines," Brown said during his trip. "We can't afford any dropouts in the tremendous human challenge to make the transition to a sustainable future. Disaster still looms and we've got to make the turn." And without mentioning President Trump by name, Brown was clearly giving a nod to last week's decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement when he told a crowd "there are still people in powerful places who are resisting reality."
Brown was careful to say that Xi spoke only in positive terms and appeared to have no "desire to get into verbal battles with President Trump."
Brown said of Xi that "It's very clear he welcomes an increased role on the part of California."
Earlier this week, the LA Times reported on Brown's stops in "cities that look a lot like California," and quoted the governor as saying, "The key to Paris was President Xi and President Obama meeting together. [Now] it’s up to President Xi to advance the ball. We want to stand behind him and make that possible."
Mother Jones broke news of Brown's rogue climate accords on Tuesday, noting that he and his delegation appeared at the Clean Energy Ministerial in Beijing and had plans to meet with 75 Chinese companies to discuss doing business with California. And they note that America's most senior government official, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, was in Beijing as well, but there were no reports of his having such high-level meetings with government officials.
The pacts Brown signed, including those with the Chinese provinces of Jiangsu and Sichuan and his talk with Xi, are non-binding, just as the Paris Climate Accord was non-binding, and they do not establish any new emission limits, as the AP reports.
But there are signs that China is committed to reducing coal emissions in the wake of the Paris Accord, and in the wake of public pressure to reduce the intense smog that covers many of the country's urban areas. Under the accord, China's emissions are supposed to peak in 2030 and fall after that, but the AP says they could achieve that goal a decade early. The country has canceled plans to construct 100 coal-fired plants, and China's coal consumption fell for three consecutive years through 2016, bumping back up so far in 2017.
California may be the world's sixth largest economy, but as Mother Jones points out, Brown's power as a state governor are limited in that he can't make unilateral commitments, and the state "can’t shape foreign policy by itself, nor staff an embassy."
But as He Weiwen, senior fellow of the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization and a former economic counselor at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, tells the LA Times, "Washington and Beijing decide the policy level. [But] the actual investment projects on trade and other activities happen in the states and provinces."