Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former California governor Jerry Brown engaged in a discussion about the future of climate action at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2019 on Wednesday, 11 December. AGU executive director and CEO Chris McEntee joined them on stage to talk about what challenges and solutions are addressed by America’s Pledge, the climate plan Bloomberg and Brown first announced in 2017.
“When the AGU headquarters building was built 25 years ago, net zero buildings were just a dream,” said Bloomberg. “But the years since then have shown that when scientific research meets smart public policy, anything is possible.”
Earlier this week, the two leaders presented from their initiative a new report titled Accelerating America’s Pledge at the United Nations’ 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Madrid, Spain. The report provides analysis on several strategies to significantly reduce carbon emissions that could potentially lead to full decarbonization in the United States by 2050. The analysis was led by the University of Maryland’s Center for Global Sustainability and the Rocky Mountain Institute, along with the World Resources Institute and CDP.
“America’s Pledge is not just a statement of support; it’s a way to uphold our promise to the world” that the United States made when it signed on to the Paris Agreement, said Bloomberg. In June 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on 1 June 2020. (Bloomberg announced his Democratic candidacy for president on 24 November.) Brown added that around 4,000 governments and businesses have pledged to their initiative to take climate action.
The report analyzes the potential of a “bottom-up” strategy focusing on climate action led by cities, states, and businesses. It suggests that ambitious action by local leaders could reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 37% below 2005 levels by 2030. The idea is to combine that movement with “aggressive new federal engagement,” per the report, that “would lay the foundation for a net zero emissions economy by mid-century” and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, Global Warming of 1.5 °C.
Bloomberg called on scientists to convince the public to call their lawmakers and “hold their feet to the fire.” Both leaders insisted that the climate crisis is much more a political problem than a scientific one, and scientists should use their voices while providing their expertise. He added that organizations like AGU have power “to lead this country” through the great credibility of their scientific membership. On Monday, AGU released its updated position statement on climate, calling for scientists to engage with policy makers to take immediate and coordinated action on the climate crisis.
McEntee noted that “climate doesn’t know geography,” asking the two leaders whether their pledge for America would address global challenges. Brown suggested that more partnerships like the California–China Climate Institute, which he founded at the University of California, Berkeley, would create partnerships and enable better research. The United States also needs to provide better scientific funding in federal budgets for research and to raise the next generation through proper scientific education. “Scientists have to get the word to the politicians that the lifeblood of the future is new knowledge,” said Brown.
When asked by McEntee whether they were optimistic about the future, Brown responded, “The future is uncertain. The trends don’t look so good. But we have enormous capacity. And if we look to the past, the stuff that’s happening now was unimaginable.”
Bloomberg added, “We have to be opportunistic and aggressive. Everybody here should be calling their congressman.”
—Heather Goss (@heathermg), Editor in Chief, Eos