Gov. Jay Inslee says he is headed to Paris on Friday to show the state’s commitment to combating “the scourge” of climate change as he attends an international conference.
Gov. Jay Inslee is headed on Friday to Paris to show the state’s commitment to combat what he calls the “the scourge” of climate change as he attends an international conference expected to draw tens of thousands of people.
“We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last to be able to do something about it,” Inslee said in an interview with The Seattle Times.
Inslee has made a statewide campaign to reduce greenhouse gases that warm the planet one of the central themes of his administration, but earlier this year he was unable to gain the Legislature’s approval for his centerpiece effort to regulate those emissions.
In Paris, Inslee will be part of a State Department-sponsored group, but he will not be involved in the actual negotiations that will bring together representatives of more than 190 nations to try to hammer out a historic agreement to limit climate change.
Instead, he will spend most of his four days in France attending meetings, where he will talk about Washington’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, learn what’s happening elsewhere and check in with companies interested in doing business in Washington state.
“I’ll be meeting with at least two high-tech, clean-energy companies that some day … could have operations in the state of Washington,” said Inslee, a Democrat.
The cost for Inslee and two other state officials attending the conference will be picked up by the Georgetown (University) Climate Center, which is financed through foundations.
Inslee will be joined in Paris by more than two dozen other Washingtonians. They include Jay Manning, who chairs the Washington Environmental Council; Mike O’Brien, a Seattle City Council member; Jessica Finn Coven, who heads up Seattle’s office of sustainability; and K.C. Golden of Climate Solutions.
Washington’s Bill Gates also will make an appearance at the conference, held by the United Nations. As first reported by ClimateWire, Gates is expected to announce a multibillion dollar clean-energy research and development partnership.
Others attending from the West Coast include the mayors of Los Angeles, Portland and Oakland.
The presence of so many state and local officials reflects growing activism among regional governments in North America and elsewhere in developing climate policies that often goes well beyond those of national governments.
In Paris, for example, Manning says he will help explain how the West Coast, and specifically California and British Columbia, has moved ahead with wide-ranging efforts to cap carbon emissions.
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“We have demonstrated that there is nothing inconsistent with carbon limits and a robust economy,” Manning said. “B.C. and California have utterly destroyed that argument through their own performance.”
There are high expectations for the international conference, which will unfold over 12 days beginning Monday in the emotionally charged aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.
In earlier conferences, more than 190 countries agreed to the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in an attempt to limit sea-level rise, snowpack shrinkage and other impacts of climate change.
The negotiators will wrestle with a range of issues that include whether they can create a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, who pays for emission reductions and how nations can be held accountable for their pledges.
A successful conference could give a boost to Inslee as he struggles to move forward with reducing emissions in Washington state, which already benefits from a low carbon footprint in the power sector due to an abundance of hydropower.
During the Legislature’s last session, Inslee gained little traction for a bill that would cap emissions and set up a statewide system of trading “allowances” for major polluters.
Then, in July, his administration launched a kind of Plan B — an executive order to begin work on a more limited program to cap the emissions of more than 30 major polluters.
The intent of this rule is to cut Washington’s carbon emissions by 50 percent over 1990 levels by midcentury, as called for in 2008 law. But that target already appears to be outdated.
Climate scientists now say that the global emissions need to be reduced by at least 80 percent by 2050 to stay below the 2 degree Celsius limit, and that would require far more sweeping changes in global-energy use. Inslee will endorse that goal in Paris even as his own rule-making effort falls well short of trying to meet that level.
“I believe that short-term action that is strong and consistent with our current economic realities is more important than long-term vision statements,” Inslee said. “The rule itself is a first step. There will have to be multiple steps.”
Meanwhile, Inslee’s efforts to regulate carbon emissions have come under attack from state Republican leaders. It’s a standoff that mirrors the broader national political divide between the two parties over climate-change policy.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, during the last legislative session sponsored a bill that would give new incentives to utilities to reduce carbon emissions but steered away from any cap that he fears could harm industries. And Ericksen says the governor has “no ability, or authorization or rights to make any promises in Paris in regards to carbon reduction in Washington.”
Rather than fly all the way to Paris, Ericksen suggests the governor could “Skype it in” and lower his carbon footprint.
Inslee said that sometimes it’s important to see people face-to-face, and this is one of those times.
“I wish this meeting was here so I didn’t have to spend hours in the airplane,” Inslee said. “But they scheduled it in Paris — not Olympia.”
Once the Paris conference is over, the state battle over if — and how — to regulate carbon emissions will heat up again in the new year.
One group is campaigning for a measure, which could go to the Legislature next year, that would impose a revenue-neutral tax on carbon emissions.
Another group plans next year to file a voter initiative that is expected to more closely resemble the cap-and-trade proposal that Inslee couldn’t get through the last legislative session.
“I’m encouraging this initiative process, and there are talks going on as we speak, of what may end up on the ballot,” Inslee said.