I doubt, the signing of the Paris agreement aside, that there have ever been as big a week for climate progress as this one.
First, the Government of China presented itself as the global successor to the US role abandoned by Trump, accelerating its peak emission date and committing to net zero climate impact by 2060. By placing China solidly ahead of the US in both of those categories — we have neither pledged peak emissions nor net zero — China upped the global expectations game. But because China is so much the current biggest emitter, and because it’s economy has the centrally managed capacity to make economic transitions far faster than Europe, the US or India, China’s pledge, while leaving loopholes and thin on implementation details, is an an enormous step forward. By itself, scientists estimated it could cut global temperature increases by .3 degrees. It also signals strongly that China views its existing commitments to renewable electricity and zero emissions, electrified vehicles as core economic drivers of global leadership. China thereby makes fossil fuels far less attractive to investors even in countries that may not themselves yet embrace climate leadership. If China is going to drive coal power out of its system, and replace gasoline and diesel with electricity, global markets will follow — whatever Trump, Bolsanaro and Prince Mohammed might prefer.
Then, 24 hours after Xi’s UN General Assembly announcement, California Governor Gavin Newsom, on the hood of a red Ford electric mustang, signed an Executive Order instructing the state’s Air Resources Board to use its authority to ensure that by 2035 the state had in place rules banning the sale of fossil fuel fired passenger vehicles, and that by 2045 both cars and trucks using California’s highways had zero carbon emissions. The coverage has mostly focused on the 2035 ban on sales of gasoline powered cars; the 2045 deadline is actually significantly more stringent and will bring down emissions even faster.
Newsom in his commentaries on California’s apocalyptic fire season, had made clear that he planned to respond to the strong signal that the climate crisis had reached a new emergency status, one that required political leaders to greatly accelerate decarbonization — which he has just done.
Since California has 14 other states (plus the District of Columbia) teed up to follow its lead, and among them they represent about half of the US vehicle market, America has, suddenly, rejoined the global clean energy and electrified transportation movement — only one day after China stepped into the limelight as its new leader.