by Adam Stern, Mercury News
As the world’s nations gather in Bonn, Germany, this week for the latest round of United Nations climate talks, the official U.S. delegation will struggle to represent our country in the wake of President Trump’s announcement in June that he intends to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord.
But a new, unofficial U.S. coalition will also be on hand at the talks. “We Are Still In” is a 2,500-member alliance of strong American voices from businesses, state and local governments, and universities committed to meeting our greenhouse gas reduction targets. They will host a U.S. Climate Action Center in Bonn that will assure the world that many U.S. institutions still support the Paris agreement.
The alliance will share the impressive progress now under way in many parts of the country to build a clean-energy economy. The strengthening movement in America to address climate change, rather than deny it as the Trump administration would have us do, is leading to dramatic shifts toward using renewable power such as wind and solar. Meanwhile, China and India are working on timetables to ban internal combustion engines, leading California to consider doing the same. GM and Ford are embracing electric vehicles as cheaper battery technology makes the cars more affordable, and growing networks of electric chargers offer convenience and reliability.
Some of the best examples of climate progress are coming from California. In July, Gov. Jerry Brown signed bipartisan legislation extending the state’s cap-and-trade program to 2030. This market-based system — together with California’s renewables portfolio standard — is on track to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Pollution reductions have been achieved in California even as the state’s population and economy continue to grow.
In the Bay Area, new Community Choice Energy agencies are springing up to deliver more carbon-free power at rates lower than PG&E. Peninsula Clean Energy, which now serves 289,000 customer accounts in San Mateo County, just announced that its clean electricity is avoiding 308,000 metric tons in annual emissions and saving residents and businesses $17 million per year. Silicon Valley Clean Energy is providing power for 12 cities in Santa Clara County. Similar agencies are up and running in Marin and San Francisco. Alameda County and San Jose will start their programs in 2018.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, best known for its “Spare the Air” alerts, is working to implement a new clean air plan and climate strategy. The plan envisions a low-carbon economy that meets air quality standards and reduces health risks in Bay Area communities. The air district is playing a vital role coordinating the actions of cities and industries in the transition away from fossil fuels.
Facebook reported in 2016 that 43 percent of its energy mix, mostly used to power its data centers, came from clean and renewable energy sources. Through Project Sunroof, Google has mapped more than 43 million rooftops in the United States, thus giving homeowners an easy tool to evaluate their house’s suitability for solar panels. Tesla’s assembly line in Fremont has started to produce the new Model 3 electric vehicle. The advanced technology and mid-range price for the car attracted 455,000 orders before anyone could test-drive it.
Much of the nation’s progress on reducing our carbon emissions to date has been thanks to smart regulatory planning. Now, in the absence of federal support for wise, science-based policy on climate, we must encourage more companies, cities, and states to join the “We Are Still In” coalition. We all have more power than we may realize to influence our community leaders and businesses to take action on climate. Let’s use it.