How the politics of climate change are shaping the future of California
How the politics of climate change are shaping the future of California
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By BLANCA BEGERT and DEBRA KAHN
With help from Wes Venteicher and Jordan Wolman
Expect a lot more pictures like this over the next week. | Office of the Governor of California
WHAT’S IN A MOU: Politicians love a good memorandum of understanding. They may need to work on voters’ understanding of them, though.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on Tuesday inked the first of five MOUs on his weeklong trip to China, a deal with the province of Guangdong that will renew and expand a 2013-era partnership to refine cap-and-trade markets, decarbonize industry, promote biodiversity and transition to zero-emission vehicles.
The other climate MOUs on the trip will look broadly similar to the one that Dee Dee Myers, director of Newsom’s office of business and economic development, signed today in Guangzhou.
They cover wide scopes of climate action and policy — from agreements to meet about adaptation strategies to plans to exchange monitoring methods for emissions — with little in the way of details, specific goals or targets. (They’re also nonbinding, like the Paris Agreement and other international climate pacts.)
While Newsom clearly thinks MOUs are good, it’s not as clear whether voters do.
A timely survey released Tuesday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace finds that Californians see a lot of value in the U.S. engaging on foreign policy and see California as having an active role to play in addressing global challenges. And they also see Asia as the most useful region to engage with.
But they’re not sure about MOUs, joint declarations and other policy tools. Thirty-four percent of respondents said California should be pursuing those types of agreements with other nations, while 30 percent said the state shouldn’t and 37 percent said they didn’t know.
Californians are about equally split on the value of international MOUs. | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
On the bright side for Newsom, a strong majority — 60 percent — said that if the state is going to do international diplomacy, climate is the place to focus. (The next most popular area was foreign direct investment, at 16 percent.)
“Californians recognize that we need to be a leader on addressing global climate change, and that the U.S. needs to be a leader on addressing global climate change,” said Ian Klaus, director of Carnegie California, the group’s West Coast arm. “But you still have uncertainty about exactly what the returns are to California when they make those trips.”
The returns are large, says Lauren Sanchez, Newsom’s top climate aide, who’s on the trip. She credits a 2013 partnership between Beijing and the California Air Resources Board as integral to getting China’s zero-emissions vehicle mandate off the ground. And Guangdong province modeled its regional cap-and-trade program after California’s under the auspices of the 2015 MOU that Newsom renewed today.
“The MOUs are really the foundation of a lot of the exchange that is allowed to happen,” she said in an interview. “Once you’re able to finalize these partnerships, then there’s kind of a high-level government blessing to send delegations over to Sacramento for three months, or to do the types of virtual policy exchanges that we’ve been doing.”
And Carnegie’s survey noted that California’s 2013 MOU with China’s National Development and Reform Commission also preceded the breakthrough agreement on climate between the United States and China in 2015. It’s surprising that there’s such a disconnect between the apparent value of the agreements and Californians’ acceptance of them, Klaus said.
“The disparity between how much Californians believe that California leadership should take action on global climate change and whether or not they should make MOUs and do policy exchange is, to me, the real story,” he said. “They haven’t explained the value of one to the other.”
There is one thing Californians do agree on, he said, which is the ability of their leaders to operate independently:
“Californians feel quite firmly that no one should be telling Gov. Newsom, for example, that he can’t go to China.”
Follow along with us on the ground with Gov. Gavin Newsom this week in China. Sign up for our daily newsletter on how California’s response to climate change is shaping the future — across industry and government and across politics and policy.
Newsom is an admirer of BYD’s electric buses. | Office of the Governor of California
BUILD YOUR DREAMS: Before the MOU signing in Guangzhou, Newsom visited Shenzhen, the city with the first all-electric bus system in the world.
Surrounded by a small mob of reporters, the governor toured a municipal electric bus depot with Shenzhen Vice Mayor Wang Shourui, looking at charging stations and boarding numerous new models of buses from Build Your Dreams (BYD), which surpassed Tesla this year to become the top-selling EV brand in the world.
Though BYD has been heavily restricted from entering the U.S. market, it’s a top EV competitor almost everywhere else. It’s one of the auto companies at the center of a European probe into Chinese EV-industry subsidies. It also has a factory in Lancaster, Calif., where it produced its 400th bus recently as part of a 20-bus order for Los Angeles International Airport.
“They’re incredibly successful,” Newsom told reporters Tuesday. “They partner with us in terms of making sure they have a unionized workforce and they’ve really invested in the state and in many respects our values.”
In 2021, the company was banned from receiving federal transit funding, a reflection of increasing economic competition over electric buses between the U.S. and China.
While at the bus depot, Newsom also took a new BYD SUV plug-in hybrid for a spin and waved his hands in front of the steering wheel as it rotated around in a circle. The car, which also floats in water, is not available for sale in the United States. “I didn’t know I needed one,” he joked. (Even though they use gasoline, plug-in hybrids will still be allowed under California’s 2035 gas-powered car ban.)
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Newsom and members of his entourage mingle at the University of Hong Kong. | Blanca Begert/POLITICO
SPOTTED IN HONG KONG: Some familiar faces are accompanying Newsom in China.
A reception following his remarks at Hong Kong University on Monday drew HKU faculty, administrators and students and also some California notables:
GO-Biz Director Dee Dee Myers gave a toast. And Jared Blumenfeld, Newsom’s former CalEPA secretary who left last year to become president of Laurene Powell Jobs’ Waverley Street Foundation, sat on the couches chatting with reporters. Fan Dai, director of the California-China Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, who played a pivotal role in planning Newsom’s trip, was there, as was Lauren Sanchez, Newsom’s top climate aide, and Jason Elliott, his deputy chief of staff.
SCIENCE MOMS IN SACRAMENTO: A new climate-focused ad campaign from a group of scientists who are also mothers is hitting California airwaves today.
Science Moms, a nonprofit affiliated with the climate-focused ad agency Potential Energy Coalition, plans to spend at least $1 million placing its ad across the state through Jan 15. It features images of storms, floods, wildfires and parched landscapes set to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” The funding is coming from foundations and individual donors, a spokesperson for the campaign said.
CLIMATE LABOR: More than a dozen labor union chapters that have banded together to lobby for expanded worker protections as California transitions from fossil fuels to renewable energy released a list of demands today.
The group, California Labor for Climate Jobs, which includes chapters from the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, SEIU and AFSCME, is asking for things like improved standards for working in extreme conditions and unemployment benefits for undocumented workers.
MORE GREEN JOBS: California is home to a third of the country’s climate tech companies, according to a Deloitte report released today, which notes California has captured 35 of the United States’ 77 climate tech “megadeals” — deals worth at least $100 million — since 2021. Massachusetts and Colorado are up-and-comers.
MAPPING BATTERIES: California continues to add much-needed battery storage to its electric grid at a rapid clip, and now you can see where.
The Energy Commission today announced a new dashboard showing where the state has added utility, residential and commercial batteries. Battery storage, which bolsters the grid after the sun goes down, recently reached 6,600 megawatts and is on track to hit 8,500 by the end of the year (enough to power 8.5 million homes), according to the CEC.
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