In 1995, French President Jacques Chirac, observing the presidency of Bill Clinton and his administration’s tepid response to the unfolding atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, observed, with barely concealed disgust, that “the position of leader of the free world is now vacant.”
The same thing could be said today of the presidency of Donald J. Trump. But in an unusual, and in some ways unprecedented development, a 79-year-old four-term governor and three-time presidential aspirant has swept into the void left by the inept, incompetent, and embarrassing Trump.
The governor, of course, is California’s Jerry Brown, who is about to wrap up a 10-day trip to Europe, where he made stops at the Vatican, Brussels, Stuttgart, Oslo, and Bonn, in an effort to show the international community that, despite Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the leader of the world’s sixth-largest economy remains committed to the fight against climate change.
At a meeting of climate-change experts and religious leaders at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on November 4, Brown explained that American state and municipal leaders have it in their power to take action. There is “not just a top-down structure that we have in the United States, there are many elements,” and, given the commitments that “we’re seeing around the world, the Trump factor is very small.”
A week later, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Brown urged state and local leaders to take the initiative. “We can’t,” said Brown, “just wait for our national leaders—we need to take action together.”
Brown, who was appointed the UN conference’s special adviser for states and regions, reaffirmed the commitment of a number of American cities and states to the Paris agreement, and noted that those US businesses, states, and municipalities who remain committed to Paris represent “a bigger economy than any nation outside the US and China.”
While in Bonn, Brown also welcomed outgoing Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe as the newest signatory to the Under2Coalition pledge. The coalition was formed in 2015 by a dozen states and provinces from across the globe, including Washington, California, Vermont and Oregon; Baden-Württemberg, Germany; Catalonia, Spain; and Ontario, Canada.
Parties to the Under2MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) pledge to pursue “emission reductions consistent with a trajectory of 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and/or achieving a per capita annual emission goal of less than 2 metric tons by 2050.”