California Gov. Jerry Brown predicted Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord will prove only a temporary setback to reducing greenhouse gas emissions because “disaster still looms” unless the world moves urgently on the issue. Brown told The Associated Press during his visit to a clean energy conference in Beijing that China, European countries and U.S. state governors will for now fill the gap left by the federal government’s move to abdicate leadership on the issue. “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.”
Trump’s decision to leave the Paris accord has drawn heavy criticism within the U.S. and internationally, including in China. The president argued that the Paris agreement favors emerging economies such as China’s and India’s at the expense of U.S. workers. Without mentioning Trump by name, Brown told attendees at a forum on electric vehicles that “there are still people in powerful places who are resisting reality, who are resisting the obvious science that we know governs our lives.” Later, when asked by the AP what could prompt the U.S. to return to the forefront of climate change efforts, Brown replied, “Science, facts, the world, the marketplace.”
Chinese Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang and Brown signed an agreement on behalf of their respective governments calling for greater collaboration on countering climate change. Wan did not publicly address Trump’s move on the accord, which has been ratified by almost 150 countries. Brown signed similar collaboration agreements over the past several days with leaders in two Chinese provinces, Jiangsu and Sichuan. The U.S. has long been a leader in the clean energy arena, driving innovations in electric cars, renewable power and other sectors of the industry. California, with the largest economy of any U.S. state, as well as some of the strictest climate controls, has been at the forefront of the sector.
Although China has in recent years overtaken the U.S. as the world leader in renewable power development, 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 public pressure at home to reduce the health-damaging smog that blankets many urban areas. The government has pledged that greenhouse gas emissions will peak no later than 2030 under the Paris pact, and start to fall after then. It has canceled the planned construction of more than 100 new coal-fired power plants and plans to invest at least $360 billion in green-energy projects by the end of the decade.
Its consumption of coal fell in 2016 for a third consecutive year. It could meet its 2030 target a decade early. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry also is due to attend this week’s energy 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 energy trends. Trump is a strong advocate of boosting U.S. fossil fuel industries, in particular coal mining, which suffered a steep decline in production during the tenure of former President Barack Obama.
Cheap natural gas and tighter pollution restrictions toppled coal from its dominant position in the U.S. power sector over the past decade and experts say it unlikely to regain that position regardless of what Trump does. China is by far the world’s largest user of coal, which accounts for almost two-thirds of its energy use and has made it the number one emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Perry is from a state that is known for its oil production, but which also has emerged as a leader in renewables development. Texas has some of the largest wind farms in the country and a fast-expanding solar sector.