California And Mexico Sign Climate Pact During Governor Brown’s Visit

CREDIT: Justin Short, Office of the Governor

Governor Brown meets with Mexico's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a climate change agreement with Mexican officials to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and address several other environmental concerns as part of the first day of his four-day trip to Mexico. The six-page memorandum of understanding is non-binding but is seen as a way to promote future collaboration between the two major economies, especially when it comes to carbon pricing.

“California can’t do it alone and with this new partnership with Mexico we can make real progress on reducing dangerous greenhouse gases,” said Gov. Brown.

California started operating a carbon cap-and-trade system in 2012 for large greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters. While the state is on track to meet its goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, expanding the program to include other markets is a priority. Globally, carbon markets are in great flux as China is launching regional entities in the build-up to a national plan just as Australia is repealing their carbon price. Linking markets can help stabilize prices and create stability that promotes success. Earlier this year California formally joined its cap-and-trade system with Quebec, however setting up a program with Mexico, the world’s 11th largest GHG emitter, would be groundbreaking. It could also provide incentive for other states to join up as part of their own efforts to reduce emissions from power plants as proposed by the EPA’s recent carbon reduction plan.

“California and Mexico can give a crucial boost to the growing global momentum on key policies like carbon pricing that can achieve ambitious reductions in climate pollution, drive clean energy innovation, and promote low-carbon prosperity,” Nathaniel Keohane, The Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Vice President for International Climate, said in a statement. “In doing so they can demonstrate concrete progress on practical solutions to address the common challenge of climate change.”

Not all environmentally oriented groups are as impressed with the governor’s Mexican outreach. His trip has been organized by the California Chamber of Commerce, a body that attempted to sue the state over the carbon cap-and-trade system last year, arguing that it lacked the authority to auction carbon allowances. The delegation also includes representatives from EDF and the Natural Resources Defense Council and the media-saturated event in which Gov. Brown signed the climate agreement was co-sponsored by EDF and Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. Delegates paid $5,000 each for the trip, officially deemed the Trade and Investment Mission to Mexico, which is subsidizing the cost of Brown’s travel.

Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, took issue with the governor’s focus on global GHGs while back home in California he’s continued to allow fracking of the state’s oil and gas supply to move forward.

“He talks about the environment, he talks about the need to reduce climate change, and then he is continuing to accept campaign funding from the oil industry and is astoundingly weak on the fracking issue,” said Phillips.

While the future of statewide fossil fuel production plays out in California through legislative battles and special interest group endeavors, Gov. Brown’s initiative in Mexico follows on the heels of similar deals reached last year with Chinese officials, reemphasizing the governor’s determination to appear to be leading global efforts to mitigate climate change. Gov. Brown has also been facilitating regional discussions along the west coast with British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon in an effort to align GHG reduction efforts and clean energy promotion.

Gov. Brown has repeatedly made climate change a touchstone of his remarks this year as California suffers one of its worst droughts on record. With water reserves diminishing, in May Brown said that “California is right at the epicenter of climate change,” and that “we’ve got to get to work both to reduce climate change and adapt to it.”

On Tuesday Gov. Brown is expected to sign an agreement with Mexico’s Ministry of Energy. Mexico is currently undergoing major reforms to open up its oil and gas sector to foreign investment after the state-run industry became bloated and inefficient in recent years and has fallen behind in the fracking boom. This is expected to lead to a increase in fossil fuel production as international companies with expertise can now compete for onshore and offshore resources.

On Wednesday, the governor plans to conclude his trip by signing a trade agreement with Mexico, California’s largest export market.