California has climate action on the mind.
This week state lawmakers, senior officials in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and prominent environmental leaders are representing California at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, Canada — an appearance that could make a splash on the world stage as Newsom continues to tout his climate credentials.
That’s because California is the first and only U.S. state to be an official observer at the convention and it could help fill a leadership void at the federal level, Mary Creasman, CEO of the California Environmental Voters’ Education Fund, told me Sunday. Creasman said the group, which is leading the California delegation, raised money from the Resources Legacy Fund to cover lawmakers’ trip to the convention.
- Creasman: “All these governments came together with an agreement on goals and a U.N. framework for biodiversity protection … The U.S. Senate has not ratified that agreement … The U.S. isn’t leading, but California, as the fourth-largest economy in the world, is. And so it’s really important for us to be part of these conversations, to show what is happening in the U.S., in California, what we’re working on, how we’re pushing as states — even if the federal government isn’t there.”
- Also in attendance: Wade Crowfoot, secretary of California’s Natural Resources Agency. He said in a statement: “This is a pivotal moment for countries from around the globe to take collective action to protect and restore biodiversity and stem a crisis of extinction across the planet. I’m proud that California leaders will be there to engage with the global community and share our message of hope and possibility.”
- Among the items on Crowfoot’s agenda: highlighting the state’s plans to build the world’s largest wildlife crossing and calling for more public and private investments in such bridges; reinforcing California and Quebec’s existing collaboration on biodiversity issues; and announcing that the state is joining “an intergovernmental group of more than 100 countries that champions conservation of 30% of the world’s lands and waters by 2030.” (The state in April unveiled its own so-called 30×30 blueprint.)
- Crowfoot is one of four Natural Resources Agency officials attending the conference, and their travel costs are being paid for by the state, said spokesperson Lisa Lien-Mager.
The state lawmakers on the trip — who Creasman said have “been showing a lot of leadership” on climate — are Democratic Assemblymembers Laura Friedman, Phil Ting and Ash Kalra, and Democratic state Senators Ben Allen, Henry Stern, Lena Gonzalez and Scott Wiener.
- Some of them took international climate trips last month: Stern went to Egypt for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, while Gonzalez and Friedman traveled to Japan for a climate study tour sponsored by the California Foundation for the Environment and the Economy. Allen, meanwhile, went to Maine and Canada this summer on another climate research tour funded by the foundation.
Creasman said California’s commitment to climate action has ramped up significantly since last year’s U.N. climate change conference in Scotland, when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told me, “I don’t at all feel that we are leading the world anymore.”
- Creasman: “Last year, that was true … Our last time we had done anything really significant legislatively on climate was 2018. Now in 2022, we had our biggest year of climate action ever … There’s just a huge amount of both policy, funding investment and administrative action that’s happened across the board.”
- Asked if she fears that some climate funding may be imperiled by California’s estimated $25 billion budget deficit — and Assembly Democrats acknowledging that some allocations may have to be delayed or re-evaluated — Creasman said: “We can’t just have a big year of action and do nothing again for a few years … We have to continue to make budget investments in climate, we have to make sure that money goes out the door equitably and quickly … I think what’s important is for the state to look at the cost of inaction down the road.”
One last climate thing: Even after the massive winter storm that swept across much of California this weekend — dumping rain and snow, closing highways, triggering flash flood warnings and cutting power to thousands of people — the state is still mired in drought. Hence state regulators moving last week to extend through January 2024 a ban on wasteful water practices, such as watering lawns when it rains, using hoses to wash off sidewalks and driveways and running decorative water fountains.