Climate bat­tle’s van­guard

Brown’s trip to China re­in­forces a cru­cial re­gional part­ner­ship.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Jes­sica Mey­ers

CHENGDU, China — A shaded prom­e­nade traces the river in this south­ern Chi­nese city that — when the smog blows away — fills with cou­ples danc­ing to the sun­rise. Nearly 900 miles east, leafy boule­vards and moun­tain­side parks cover the for­mer im­pe­rial cap­i­tal of Nan­jing.

The first two stops on Gov. Jerry Brown’s China tour are places that en­vi­sion them­selves as Cal­i­for­nia sees it­self — pro­gres­sive and green.

Brown’s meet­ings be­gan Sun­day in Sichuan prov­ince’s cap­i­tal, Chengdu, part of a week­long trip tied to his mantra of climate change col­lab­o­ra­tion. Sichuan’s rivers and steep ter­rain have helped make it a hub for hy­dropower. He trav­eled Mon­day to Jiangsu prov­ince, which in­cludes Nan­jing and which aims to po­si­tion it­self as a leader on re­new­able en­ergy.

Th­ese stops take on greater sig­nif­i­cance amid Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion Thurs­day to pull the U.S. from a his­toric Paris climate ac­cord led by China and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Of­fi­cials are re­in­forc­ing re­gional partnerships — with the eco­nomic links they pro­vide — in a quiet ef­fort to en­sure con­tin­ued ties.

“As I see many prob­lems in the world, many ten­sions and dis­rup­tions, I see a grow­ing im­por­tance of partnerships such as the one we are build­ing,” Brown told Sichuan Com­mu­nist Party Sec­re­tary Wang Dong­ming, as the two re­gions pre­pared to sign a sis­ter agree­ment.

Chi­nese back­ground mu­sic ac­com­pa­nied the cer­e­mo­nial sign­ing in a high­ceilinged ho­tel con­fer­ence room. Wang called it “a very im­por­tant visit.”

Brown led a del­e­ga­tion of nearly 100 busi­ness and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials when he vis­ited China four years ago. This time, he ar­rived with a crew of 10 and a more fo­cused mis­sion: to af­firm a global obli­ga­tion to green growth.

“The con­sis­tency of com­mit­ment and the con­sis­tency of re­la­tion­ships is im­por­tant,” said Isabel Hil­ton, founder of Chi­na­di­a­logue, a web­site that fo­cuses on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. “Why would you in­vest, at this point, in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment level with a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that is killing off all your partnerships?”

Sichuan and Jiangsu were the first Chi­nese prov­inces to join an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion Brown helped cre­ate, which aims to keep the in­crease in global tem­per­a­tures be­low 2 de­grees Cel­sius from pre-in­dus­trial lev­els — the point at which the po­ten­tial for ir­rev­o­ca­ble con­se­quences be­gins.

Brown will co-host a fo­rum Wed­nes­day with Sichuan of­fi­cials in Bei­jing, where state and pro­vin­cial mem­bers of the so-called Un­der2 Coali­tion will plot re­duc­tions in green­house gas emis­sions. He’ll also par­tic­i­pate in a con­fer­ence with global en­ergy min­is­ters. (His day­long Chengdu visit included a quick stop at the pop­u­lar panda cen­ter, where he noted the an­i­mals slept a lot.)

“I’ve been around so long that when I was gov­er­nor the first time, I wel­comed the fa­ther of Pres­i­dent Xi [Jin­ping] to Cal­i­for­nia in 1978,” Brown told a row of suited Chi­nese del­e­gates be­fore the sign­ing cer­e­mony.

His long ten­ure, he said, means “I’m get­ting very im­pa­tient. I want to see things ac­com­plished.”

He’s look­ing to an un­usual part­ner. China is the world’s lead­ing green­house gas pol­luter and the largest global fun­der of new coal power projects. More than 60% of its en­ergy use is still teth­ered to the fos­sil fuel. A cloak of haze greeted Brown on his ar­rival in Chengdu.

But the coun­try is also the big­gest in­vestor in re­new­able en­ergy and a lead­ing ad­vo­cate of climate change ac­tion. Bei­jing shut its last coal-fired plant in March and has plans to launch a na­tional car­bon emis­sions trad­ing mar­ket this year.

China is on track to reach the point at which its emis­sions peak and start de­clin­ing be­fore a 2030 dead­line. Of­fi­cials spent $88 bil­lion last year on clean en­ergy sources such as wind and so­lar power, ac­cord­ing to mar­ket an­a­lyst Bloomberg New En­ergy Fi­nance, more than the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct of Ethiopia.

Even with China’s top­down ap­proach, lit­tle hap­pens without buy-in from the prov­inces.

“Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing de­cide the pol­icy level,” said 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. “The ac­tual in­vest­ment projects on trade and other ac­tiv­i­ties hap­pen in the states and prov­inces. That’s why it’s so im­por­tant to work with them.”

Sichuan, known for its mouth-numb­ing pep­per­corns, plays a role in the coun­try’s at­tempt to trans­mit elec­tric­ity from the west to the ur­ban east. But much of it has been wasted be­cause of bad plan­ning and in­suf­fi­cient grid ca­pac­ity. Of­fi­cials are scout­ing out ways to best use their hy­dropower abun­dance.

“There is an es­prit de corps in th­ese more iso­lated south­west­ern prov­inces where there is money flow­ing in for in­fra­struc­ture and de­vel­op­ment, and they are very open for ways to in­no­vate with the re­sources they have,” said Daniel Schwartz, di­rec­tor of the Clean En­ergy In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, who has worked with the prov­ince.

Sichuan’s pop­u­la­tion is more than twice Cal­i­for­nia’s, mak­ing it an op­por­tune place to con­duct busi­ness. Sacra­mento-based Cal­i­for­nia Cen­ter, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that con­nects com­pa­nies across the Pa­cific, opened an of­fice in Novem­ber in the heart of Chengdu’s tow­er­ing new high-tech hub.

Brown told re­porters he wants to work with the prov­ince on elec­tric ve­hi­cle pro­duc­tion. The Bay Area Coun­cil, an ad­vo­cacy group for the re­gion’s com­pa­nies, will also travel to China dur­ing Brown’s visit to look for eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties in clean en­ergy.

Cal­i­for­nia shares an even longer re­la­tion­ship with Jiangsu, an­other sis­ter prov­ince. Sandy beaches rub up against Jiangsu prov­ince’s hun­dreds of miles of coast­line, a Cal­i­for­nia com­pan­ion mi­nus the Pa­cific Coast High­way.

Brown vis­ited Nan­jing on his last visit and signed agree­ments on re­new­able en­ergy, bio­med­i­cine and high-tech agri­cul­ture.

Jiangsu launched China’s first pro­vin­cial re­new­able en­ergy as­so­ci­a­tion more than a decade ago in a re­gion rich in wind en­ergy po­ten­tial. An­a­lysts ques­tion whether it has made the best use of this op­por­tu­nity. But the man­u­fac­tur­ing hub now counts hun­dreds of clean en­ergy-re­lated com­pa­nies, from bio­fu­els to so­lar panel pro­duc­tion.

Cal­i­for­nia has long of­fered re­gions guid­ance on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues — from zero-emis­sion ve­hi­cles to air pol­lu­tion control. Chi­nese of­fi­cials re­cently turned to the state for as­sis­tance with the planned emis­sions trad­ing sys­tem, which they’re pi­lot­ing in sev­eral prov­inces.

Brown’s trip now rep­re­sents a “tidal shift” of power from Wash­ing­ton to sub­na­tional lead­ers, said Orville Schell, di­rec­tor of the Asia So­ci­ety’s Cen­ter on U.S.China Re­la­tions in New York, who penned a 1978 bi­og­ra­phy of Brown and has writ­ten 10 books about China.

It’s a “slow melt­ing away of Wash­ing­ton as the epi­cen­ter of Amer­i­can global lead­er­ship,” Schell said.

Th­ese re­gional vis­its, above all else, send a sig­nal to Chi­nese lead­ers about the se­ri­ous­ness of Cal­i­for­nia’s in­ten­tions.

“The key to Paris was Pres­i­dent Xi and Pres­i­dent Obama meet­ing to­gether,” Brown said. Now “it’s up to Pres­i­dent Xi to ad­vance the ball. We want to stand be­hind him and make that pos­si­ble.”

Jes­sica Mey­ers For The Times

GOV. JERRY BROWN, fourth from left, dur­ing his visit to Chengdu, China, part of a week­long trip tied to his mantra of climate change col­lab­o­ra­tion.

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