California Climate Summit Conundrum

September 21, 2018

From Wednesday, September 12 to Friday the 14th, California held its own Climate Conference in San Francisco. This Climate Conference was very different from others that have occurred before, for one reason: President Trump was not involved.


In fact, the climate summit was organized and attended mainly by local leaders. These leaders wanted to work together to inspire other local leaders to take action in their communities. But, leaders still addressed large scale issues, such as Healthy Energy Systems, Inclusive Economic Growth, Sustainable Communities, Land and Ocean Stewardship, Transformative Climate Investments and Cross Cutting Challenges. Instead of challenging nations as a whole, the Summit instead posed solutions to, “states, regions, cities and businesses” according to its website. The New York Times explains that the Summit’s goal was to, “go green in their own backyards, they might inspire others to follow suit [and] national leaders to act more forcefully.” Each goal has an ambitious deadline, indicating that this summit was full of leaders with just as much drive as summits led by global leaders.



                                                                                                                              GRAPHIC BY CAROLINE POLICH 

And from this point of view, the California Climate Summit was a success. It seems that it is a bold step towards a solution to the collective action problem, yet at the same time it seems to be perpetuating it. While climate summits are a great way to introduce climate back into national dialogue, they do not ever see themselves through. This has been proven by countless environmental summits and protocols that have failed, such as the Kyoto Protocol. The problem is that these programs do not have much more effect than creating discussion, because they present challenges rather than enforcing rules. These challenges pose great solutions, but since they are not legally binding, the leaders involved do not enforce the solutions.


Where California could have made significant change, they did not step up. Protestors lined up outside the summit, outraged that Governor Brown has not taken action against the oil drilling in his own state. The New York Times explained that residents of California were outraged by the lack of initiative that the state has taken, not only because the drilling releases fossil fuels that are harmful to the earth, but also due to the potential negative effects on health of citizens.


California’s initiative to take action is inspiring, but it is not reasonable to say this summit is enough to make large impact. Its symbol is powerful in the current political climate, but power and inspiration is not enough anymore. Summits like this have existed before, but still we have no substantive solution. Local leaders banding together is only powerful if it results in an equally powerful solution.


Diana is a sophomore International Relations Major with a double minor in Spanish and Environmental Studies.


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