Brown hopes to sell Mexico on following California’s green path forward

Gov. Jerry Brown, left, and Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena talk during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Sacramento. They discussed Brown's impending trip to Mexico.
Gov. Jerry Brown, left, and Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena talk during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Sacramento. They discussed Brown’s impending trip to Mexico.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
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When California launched its most ambitious effort to combat climate change nearly two years ago, there were fears it would cost workers their jobs and handicap businesses with burdensome regulations.

Since then, the state’s economy has rebounded from a damaging recession even while operating under tighter restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a track record Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to highlight when he travels to Mexico on Sunday to begin a high-profile effort to bolster California’s relationship with its southern neighbor and encourage the nation’s nascent efforts to slash pollution.


The potential for merging economic growth and environmental preservation is a key issue in Mexico, which is facing a balancing act shared by other developing countries, including China and India. With California’s assistance, experts say, Mexico has an opportunity to demonstrate a greener path.

“Mexico has to start thinking about the future,” said Blas Pérez Henríquez, director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Public Policy. “If there’s a place that can help with that, it’s California.”

Officials in Mexico and California have discussed ways to put cleaner vehicles on the roads, reduce air pollution, link energy grids across the border and jointly urge other countries to take stronger action during upcoming global summits on climate change.

“I’m going to explore, on this trip, all the ways we can work with Mexico,” Brown told reporters last week. “There’s a lot of things we can do on the whole area of climate change.”

Of course, there will be much more than the environment on Brown’s agenda during his four-day trip, his first official visit to Mexico since returning to the governor’s office in 2011. He is traveling with a delegation of more than 100 lawmakers, administration officials, lobbyists and business leaders.

At a time of national debate over increasing border security because of migrants entering the United States illegally, they’re seeking new avenues to boost cooperation with Mexico.


“Hopefully, we’re going to get a lot of business and trade, but hopefully also culture and ideas and language,” Brown said.

Tourism officials plan to sign a marketing agreement with Aeromexico, the country’s biggest airline. California universities have been discussing partnerships with Mexican counterparts. And industry leaders are looking for new ways to ease the transportation of goods through congested border crossings.

“Our border is part of a way of life for the region,” Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, said at an appearance with Brown on Wednesday in Sacramento. There’s $1 million in trade between California and Mexico every minute, he said, and Mexico is California’s biggest export market.

Brown is scheduled to meet with the U.S. ambassador, rub shoulders with Mexican officials and chat with business leaders and advocacy organizations. If there is spare time, he’ll squeeze in tours of a cathedral and an anthropology museum. Travel costs for Brown and other administration officials are being covered by fees paid by other members of the delegation.

However, it’s the topic of climate change that provides California — and by extension, Brown himself — the biggest platform on the international stage.

The centerpiece of California’s effort is its cap-and-trade plan, which requires companies to buy permits in order to emit greenhouse gases.


Since the state is responsible for only a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions, leaders here need other areas of the world to join forces.

“The topic requires a foreign policy. And if California wants to have an impact, it has to have a foreign policy,” said David Victor, a professor of international relations at UC San Diego who has studied regulatory efforts to combat climate change.

Brown went to China last year on a similar trip, signing agreements with government officials to explore cooperative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Mexico has set its own targets with a near-unanimous vote in its national Legislature — a sharp contrast to the U.S. Congress, which remains divided over whether climate change is even a man-made problem.

However, the country’s goals are only voluntary at this point. Mexico City, where Brown will spend the four days, can be choked by traffic and smog.

Mexico has signaled that it is ready to do more. For example, the country’s energy industry is being opened to outside investment after its long dependence on oil-burning, state-owned monopolies, creating new potential for solar and wind development.


“Mexico can show what an emerging market … is willing and is prepared to do,” Meade said.

California can be a key partner, according to experts, by exporting its technology and expertise, allowing countries like Mexico to piggyback on its progress.

“Developing countries don’t need to go through the long, tortuous path from dirty to clean,” said Hal Harvey, chief executive of Energy Innovation, a research firm. “They can skip steps.”

But even as California positions itself as an example to follow, the state’s own efforts to combat global warming are facing challenges and criticism. The drought and the unexpected shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear power plant have made it more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which ticked upward in 2012 after several years of decline.

Environmentalists who would like to see tougher action are disappointed that Brown hasn’t halted oil extraction through hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

And business-friendly Democrats are trying to stall the expansion of the state’s cap-and-trade program, which is scheduled to apply to transportation fuels next year. A poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, released Wednesday, said support for the change plummets from 76% to 39% if it results in higher gas prices.

Experts say the extra cost at the pump will probably be small, maybe 10 cents a gallon. And they said it would be a mistake to delay applying the cap-and-trade program to fuels.


“Not including our largest source of emissions is a little bit like trying to go on a diet but not scaling back your highest-caloric food,” said Alex Jackson, a San Francisco-based lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said she’s not worried about the legislative push to exempt fuels for three more years.

“We are a long way before we have anything that I would regard as a serious effort,” she said.

Twitter: @chrismegerian