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At Jerry Brown's climate summit, a lot of drama and a measure of momentum

Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SAN FRANCISCO -- It was equal parts theater, venting session and business meeting where stuff got done.

At California Gov. Jerry Brown's climate summit Thursday, there were no sweeping agreements struck as there were in Paris in 2015. Statements of defiance against Washington and boasts of progress made so far overshadowed actual new commitments. Protesters shouted from the outside -- and the inside -- that the state, city and business leaders assembled from around the globe are not confronting the climate problem aggressively enough.

But still, there was forward momentum. Alliances were born, goals were set, and notable and influential new leaders showed up to join the coalition of governments and companies determined to carry the world toward meeting the Paris agreement President Donald Trump has disavowed.

That was enough for organizers to declare the day a success. By the time the conference ends Friday, they can argue they have succeeded in getting the figurative boulder a few feet further up a mountain Brown likes to compare to Mount Everest.

"If you have any kind of a meeting that is big enough to create a social and political splash, you end up with the question of did it accomplish enough," said Jonathan Pershing, who was U.S. special climate envoy during the Obama administration. The myriad incremental measures put on the table in San Francisco, he said, will add up.

The largest manufacturer of tractors in the world, an Indian company, vowed to cut its emissions consistent with the Paris goals. An Australian state snubbed the country's leader by committing to phase out coal. Virginia joined the group of U.S. states aggressively defying the federal government by placing new restrictions on methane emissions.

"There are things that are happening that weren't happening before, and some of them are a big deal," Pershing said. "We now have a group of big tech companies refusing to go into places that won't give them 100 percent renewable power. That leaves places like Ohio grappling with how to get more renewable power because they want the business. That is a big deal."

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's group unveiled a new study mapping out the path for cities, states and businesses committed to carrying the U.S. to the Paris goals, pushing for progress on pledges to more reliably be accounted.

But the policies were often less of a highlight than the political positioning and drama around them.

Actor Harrison Ford drew cheers as he demanded voters "stop giving power to people who don't believe in science. Or worse than that, pretend they don't believe in science for their own self-interest." He ended on a line the crowd assembled at San Francisco's Moscone Center adored: "Let's roll up our sleeves and kick this monster's ass."

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