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June 7, 2017

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California agrees climate accord with China

WITH President Donald Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord, China and California yesterday signed an agreement to work together on reducing emissions.

The state’s governor warned that “disaster still looms” without urgent action. Jerry Brown told reporters at an international clean-energy conference in Beijing that Trump’s decision will ultimately prove only a temporary setback.

For now, he said, China, European countries and individual US states will fill the gap.

“Nobody can stay on the sidelines. We can’t afford any dropouts in the tremendous human challenge to make the transition to a sustainable future,” Brown said. “Disaster still looms and we’ve got to make the turn.”

At a closed-door meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two pledged to expand trade between California and China with an emphasis on green technologies that could help address climate change, Brown said. Trump’s announcement that he wants to pull out of the Paris accord did not come up, according to the governor.

“Xi spoke in very positive terms,” Brown told reporters after the meeting. “I don’t think there’s any desire to get into verbal battles with President Trump.”

Trump’s decision drew heavy criticism within the US and internationally, including in China, which recommitted itself to the agreement forged with the administration of former US President Barack Obama.

Trump argued that the Paris agreement favors emerging economies at the expense of US workers.

Yesterday’s agreement between California and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology effectively sidestepped Trump’s move, bringing about alignment on an issue of rising global importance between the world’s second-largest economy and California, whose economy is the largest of any US state and the sixth-largest in the world.

Brown signed similar agreements with leaders in two Chinese provinces, Jiangsu and Sichuan.

Like the Paris accord, the deals are nonbinding. They call for investment in low-carbon energy sources, cooperation on climate research and the commercialization of cleaner technologies. They do not establish new emission reduction goals.

The US has long been a major player in the clean-energy arena, driving innovations in electric cars, renewable power and other sectors of the industry. California, with some of the strictest climate controls in the nation, has been at the forefront of the sector.

China in recent years overtook the US as the world leader in renewable power development. But it has struggled to integrate its sprawling wind and solar facilities into an electricity grid still dominated by coal-fueled power plants.

At the same time, Chinese leaders face growing pressure at home to reduce the smog that blankets many urban areas.

Coal accounts for almost two-thirds of China’s energy use.

China pledged that greenhouse gas emissions will peak no later than 2030 under the Paris pact, and start to fall after then. They have canceled the planned construction of more than 100 new coal-fired power plants and plan to invest at least US$360 billion in green energy projects by the end of the decade. The nation’s consumption of coal fell in 2016 for a third consecutive year, but rebounded slightly this year.

It could meet its 2030 target a decade early.

Trump’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry is also attending the meeting in Beijing. Observers say delegates from other countries will be listening closely to the former Texas governor to gauge how Trump administration policies will shape global trends.

During a forum devoted to capturing carbon dioxide emitted from coal plants and other large industrial sources, Perry said his agency was pursuing an “all of the above” strategy that includes research intended to spur innovation for coal, nuclear, renewables and other fuels.

Perry is from a state that is known for its oil production but that has also had significant renewables development. Texas has some of the largest wind farms in the country and a fast expanding solar sector.

Such US advances in renewables won’t simply disappear under Trump, said David Sandalow, a former undersecretary of energy in the Obama administration now at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. Too many companies and states are heavily invested in the sector for that to happen, he said.

But a lack of government support for clean energy will cost the US jobs, he added, with cuts to research programs that Trump has proposed being a sign of what’s to come.

“It’s backward looking and it’s going to hurt the US,” he said. “The contrast with what’s happening in China could not be more stark.”


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