This week, members of the California Senate delegation held a virtual meeting with the state’s based reporters to discuss their participation at the United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.
Leading the discussion was Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), whose district includes the Northeast San Fernando Valley.
“As we face this climate change there is real interest — and as we see the reports coming out in terms of extreme weather and the impacts the urgency is greater than ever,” Hertzberg said.
Hertzberg added there is a genuine interest in the efforts that California is making. “There is real interest in the leadership from the United States — that leadership extends beyond the national government. There is real interest in the cities and state governments.”
“This conference is just so important for sub-national [leaders] to get together face-to-face, and talk about the issues in real-time,” said Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont). “It’s really important for people to morally know that we have so many folks on the ground that are saying, ‘we’re doubling down on the climate work that we’ve done.”
“What we see here is that there’s an unbelievable desire to learn… It’s really a two-way street: both us learning on the one hand and coming up with new ideas and meeting with folks in the private sector and the public sector. It’s quite important,” Hertzberg said.
Vulnerable communities in the San Fernando Valley and other communities have already felt the impact of the “climate emergency,” with sweltering heat and severe street flooding when it does rain. Disadvantaged households oftentimes don’t have the resources to mitigate extreme conditions.
Hertzberg has previously described the summit as “an opportunity for global leaders to find ways and policies that will, incentivize both fixing the environment, doing it in an environmentally just manner so we’re not just hurting poor communities, and create people with good jobs.”
Senate Majority Whip Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) referenced the district she represents as among the most environmentally impacted communities for environmental justice.
Gonzalez represents areas throughout Southeast Los Angeles County and the Port of Long Beach which is one of the largest ports in the state and nation. Gonzalez also referenced the environmental impact of ships currently idling in the port.
“We’re figuring out the port congestion issue,” Gonzalez said, “not just on the supply chain logistics and the economics of how we can recover from this crisis, but also on the emissions reductions that we need to be reducing yesterday.”
“This event is important and sets the stage for global leaders to figure out how to transition the world’s economy from one that is part of a solution instead of part of the problem,” explained Hertzberg.
“There seems to be a greater sense of urgency here, that the world is hot and getting hotter and that time is short for taking strong action,” said Sen. John Laird (D-Santa Cruz). The great thing about this is not just talking to others about the steps that California has taken, we are learning from others and trying to bring back the lessons to California.”
Laird said they met on the issue of wetlands and oceans with the Pew Institute and will be traveling to other parts of Scotland to see its offshore wind farms that are currently operating. He said the central coast is a possible model for this type of energy transition.
Sen. Josh Becker (D-Peninsula) said while California has led the country and the world in many ways, “We know we have to move faster.”
“Climate change is the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced. But it’s also the biggest economic opportunity of our time. We’re here to learn from other states and other countries what they’re doing that maybe we can bring back to California,” Becker said
“We are learning about new technologies … we are going to take it back, we’ve led the country but we know we have to go faster.”
All of the senators stressed the benefit of their meetings with representatives from other states.
Hertzberg said during the conference they’ve met with a number of United State Senators, members of a US Congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and governors from Washington, Illinois and Hawaii.
While the state senators maintained California continues to lead the nation and world and yet hopes to learn more information to bring back to the state legislature for consideration in 2022, they were asked why Gov. Gavin Newsom abruptly canceled his attendance at the global conference.
Legislators said California was well-represented despite the governor’s absence.
Nevertheless, the governor’s absence was notable. He had been scheduled to lead the 23-member California contingent with a documentary filmmaker, California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfield and California Air Resources Board Chairperson Liane Randolph.
In his first public appearance in two weeks on Tuesday, Nov. 10, Newsom participated in a fireside chat at the 2021 California Economic Summit in Monterey.
When asked about his cancellation at the UN climate change summit, Newsom said his decision not to attend was as simple — and as important — as trick or treating, which brought applause from the crowd.
Newsom said his wife was going to travel with him to Glasgow, but at dinner his kids had a bit of an intervention.
“It’s been a heck of a couple of years for all of us, particularly to parents and the responsibilities we have at home,” Newsom said. “I extend those responsibilities to fathers.”
Newsom has four children, ages 5-12.
“The kids couldn’t believe we were going to miss Halloween; for them, it was worse than missing Christmas,” he said. “I was defending myself, saying ‘I’ve got to go’…I woke up the next morning, I had that knot in my stomach, I had no damn choice, I had to cancel that trip.”
The governor said he and his family all dressed as pirates for Halloween, and after the holiday he was able to attend more events that weekend with his children. He said he had the most productive work week since he’s been elected governor.
Newsom said he’s been on a treadmill, going from crisis to crisis.
“From wildfires to droughts, to social justice and unrest, and obviously with COVID. There was a recall you may have read about,” he said. “Right after the recall, we just jumped back into it — we had all those bills, three weeks of intensity with bill signing.
“We have been diving deep into port issues, the winter surge —which is my biggest anxiety — vaccine boosters and making sure we get kids vaccinated and focusing on next week’s budget and catching up after a pretty intense period of time.”
The governor’s $15 billion climate package includes $3.9 billion to support the state’s Zero-Emission Vehicle goals and lead the transition to ZEVs on a global scale.
“What we are trying to do is make sure that California is at the forefront. This pandemic has affected us all,” Hertzberg said.
Members of the California delegation are in Scotland through Nov. 12.