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What is COP 21?

For the next two weeks, Paris will once again be the center of the world’s attention. This time world leaders from over 150 nations are meeting in Paris at the United Nations conference on climate change, formally known as the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The hope is that this meeting will yield the most significant international agreement yet to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and slow the effects of climate change.

Since 1992, the United Nations has worked to limit the damage that will be done to the earth from global warming pollution and, while various agreements have been made, the world has not taken the steps to reduce the worst impacts of global warming.

In fact, we are now seeing and feeling the impacts of global warming. Our coral reefs are dying, wildfires ravage our forests, droughts dry up our limited water supplies, and air pollution continues to cut short the lives of millions of people every single year.

The question on everyone’s mind this year is, Will we get an agreement and will it be strong enough? The general thinking in Paris is that we will get an agreement (that is the good news). Governments around the world have already created their own plans—called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)—these plans are blueprints for how the participating countries plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions based on what they believe is politically and economically feasible for their own country. Leaders in Paris are trying to achieve an agreement that would lay out the legal framework to ensure that the countries meet their planned targets.

The general thinking is also that the agreement will not be strong enough (the bad news). The experts have added up the numbers and, even if EVERY country did as it is intending to do, we would still not meet the scientific numbers we need to meet.

What are the numbers?

Scientists have determined that we need to keep the temperature from rising by 2°C (3.6° F) by 2100 to prevent the worst impacts of global warming. (Temperatures already have risen about 1°C above preindustrial levels, according to the British Met Office). Global temperature rise over preindustrial levels is expected to top 5°C (9° F) by the end of the century unless steps are taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But research finds that the commitments that countries, including the U.S., have submitted to date fall far short of the 2°C threshold, and many experts have called for the Paris agreement to include provisions by which countries review and strengthen their commitments every five years. Still, many of the world’s most vulnerable nations say that, even if the world can meet 2°C goal, it won’t be enough and they have called for a more aggressive target.

What is California’s role?

The question on my mind is, What role can California play in helping to stave off the worst impacts of global warming?

California is the world’s 6th, 7th or 8th largest economy (depending on the day, the stock market and other international happenings). For the past 40 years, California has been proving that investing in the technologies that reduce global warming is not only good for the planet, but also good for the state’s bottom line.

The good news coming out of California in the past few years:

  1. Energy Efficiency: California has been a leader in reducing the need for energy in the first place by making our watts go further. By 2030, we will double our energy efficiency in California.
  2. Clean Power: Right now, California is generating 25 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources and by 2030 that number will be 50 percent. To put that in perspective, 50 percent of California’s energy by 2030 would be enough to power 23 of the smallest states in the U.S. with 100% clean energy.
  3. Divesting from Coal: This year, California passed legislation that will divest the state pension funds from coal companies. California is the first state in the country, with the largest state pension funds, to do so.
  4. Clean Cars, Trucks and Buses: California’s Charge Ahead California legislation will put 1 million electric vehicles on California’s roads by 2023 and ensure that low-income communities of color, which are disproportionately impacted from pollution, are benefitting from the transition to zero tailpipe emissions.

These are truly impressive numbers, paired with a mighty economy that will help to ensure these numbers become a reality. But the numbers are only one part of what is happening in California; the other key factor is the emergence of a powerful new group of climate leaders.

Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León has led the charge in California to ensure that we not only pass legislation to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, but to ensure that the communities that have been hit the hardest get the immediate benefits of climate change solutions. The Senate President is joined by a number of other new leaders in the California Legislature, including Assembly Speaker-Elect Anthony Rendon, Senator Ricardo Lara, and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. These new leaders will be joining the California climate veterans, including California Air Resources board Chair Mary Nichols, Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Fran Pavely.

The rest of the world can learn a lot from California. Our forward-thinking policies have the support of unions, small and large businesses, Silicon Valley, health professionals, teachers, faith leaders and disadvantaged communities.

As the world struggles during the next two weeks (and beyond) to stave off the worst impacts of global warming, I hope leaders will look to California and see that it can be done.