California and the European Union will discuss the possibility of creating a common carbon market to cut greenhouse gas emissions, another sign of the state assuming a global role in the fight against climate change.
Gov. Jerry Brown announced the move Tuesday in Brussels after meeting with Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union commissioner in charge of climate action and energy, and other EU leaders to discuss how California and the region could work together to combat climate change, which Brown called an “existential crisis.”
A European official said a common carbon market might include China, and Brown said it would be better to create a carbon trading agreement on a global scale.
Brown’s announcement came as political leaders and scientists from across the world gathered for a major conference on climate change and as Syria said that it would finally sign the Paris climate accord — two actions that highlight the Trump administration’s outlier position on climate change.
Syria’s action would leave the United States as the only United Nations member to not abide by the Paris accord, if the U.S. follows through on President Trump’s threat to leave the pact.
European leaders contrasted Brown's proactive stance with that of the Trump administration, which has questioned how much human activity has contributed to climate change.
“The approach of Mr. Trump at a global level is not necessarily as helpful as it might be. But we are delighted to have Gov. Brown here because it shows there is a strong commitment from the U.S.,” said Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament.
Cañete said that “we see the Paris agreement and the low-carbon transition for what it is, the irreversible growth engine of our economies and the key to protecting our planet. The vacuum left by the current U.S. federal administration is being filled by new broad committed climate leadership.”
Brown’s visit to Brussels is part of a 10-day European trip that includes a major United Nations conference on climate change in Bonn. EU politicians emphasized Brown’s disagreement with Trump on climate issues during the governor’s first public appearance in the Belgian capital. He will speak again in the European Parliament on Wednesday.
Brown called climate change an “existential crisis” that is destroying the environment and human health. He insisted that countries must work together to minimize those effects.
“Do we have to go much, much further? Yes. Who’s we? We are all the countries in the world,” he said. In a nod to the nationlike size and influence of two U.S. states, he included them when naming countries that could do more on climate change — “the United States, Texas, California, Russia, India.”
The governor has vowed to stick to the Paris agreement’s commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Trump sent shock waves through Europe when he announced in June that the U.S. will exit the deal.
Trigg Talley, the U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change, told delegates at the start of the U.N. conference on Monday that the U.S. will stay involved in negotiations on how to implement the 2015 Paris agreement. The U.S. has not yet withdrawn from the deal.
Brown said he does not think that Trump’s decision to leave the Paris agreement is slowing down other countries that are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“There’s different levels of commitment among different nations and different regions in different nations,” he told reporters.
“The European Union continues to tighten down on the restrictions and make their goals more ambitious. And so do many places in America.”
During Tuesday’s discussions in Brussels, Brown discussed the possibility of setting up a common carbon market between the European Union and California. Such an effort might create a link with California’s cap-and-trade program, which creates permits for greenhouse gas emissions, and the bloc of 28 European countries. The EU currently has the world’s largest emissions trading system.
Tajani, an Italian center-right politician, said the EU should learn from California’s “good example” on climate policies.
Brown and the EU leaders also agreed to cooperate more on improving zero-carbon transportation.
“California climate policies and programs have cut carbon emissions, helped create clean technology jobs and spurred partnerships across the United States and around the world to fight climate change,” the European Commission said in a statement after Cañete’s meeting with Brown.
One EU official said the bloc is exploring how it might replicate California’s policies as one way to encourage car manufacturers to produce lower-emission vehicles.
Brown’s meetings in Europe serve as a fresh reminder of how he and a group of other American leaders have pushed back against Trump’s climate policies. He is also visiting the southwestern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which has a climate agreement with California, and will meet with scientists in Norway on his European tour.
But Brown said that he does not anticipate that delegates at the U.N. climate conference will be confused by mixed messages coming from the U.S. federal government and California.
The governor did not mention Trump by name during his remarks on Tuesday.
“People know very clearly that I speak for the largest state of America,” Brown said.
“The fact that the national leader or state leader may hesitate doesn’t mean that in the very place where these hesitant leaders live there aren’t very imaginative and aggressive mayors, corporate CEOs, presidents of universities, leaders of nonprofit organizations. One way or the other, we are pulling the world in the direction of a very low- and zero-carbon future,” he added.
One European politician pushed back slightly against Brown’s crusade to fight climate change.
“If you take the United States as a whole, it’s not as easy to decide everything on climate issues like in California itself,” said Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister who is now a center-right member of the European Parliament.