At a climate summit at the Vatican, Gov. Jerry Brown said the world may have reached a tipping point on global warming and that humanity must reverse course or face extinction.
Brown is at the Vatican amid stepped up efforts to bring support for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The summit was called by Pope Francis following the recent release of his encyclical on climate change.
"We have to respond, and if we don't the world will suffer, we will all suffer," Brown said. "In fact, many people, millions are suffering already."
Brown addressed dozens of mayors and other local government officials from around the world Monday, issuing criticism of Republican politicians and business interests skeptical of climate change. The governor is scheduled to also address the gathering Tuesday and Wednesday.
Brown, a onetime Jesuit seminarian, has made climate change a central theme of his tenure in his second stint as California governor. He is promoting a plan to set what the administration calls the most aggressive carbon reduction benchmark in North America, which would increase statewide renewable electricity use to 50 percent, have drivers use half as much gasoline and make buildings twice as efficient as they are now. He has also signed nonbinding climate change pacts with other states in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Oil companies have ramped up opposition, and utilities are angling for changes in the bill that would make it easier for them to fulfill requirements to produce renewable energy, the Los Angeles Times reports. But so far, no one has been able to stop the legislation, which has passed the state Senate and is advancing in the Assembly.
Senate Leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), one of the bill's authors and its most high-profile champion in the Legislature, has been meeting individually with Assembly members to further secure their support.
The pope's invitation to Brown for the Vatican conference is a sign that "the world is watching what happens in Sacramento very closely," De Leon told the Los Angeles Times, and he plans to ensure that the legislation reaches the governor's desk.
"This isn't something that was just plucked out of thin air," said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board and one of the state's top officials on climate change programs. "This was based on a careful assessment."
In addition, Brown also has overseen implementation of California's landmark "cap-and-trade" system that allows polluters to buy and sell carbon emissions credits, a system also in use in Europe. The pope's encyclical on climate change criticized such programs as "a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require."
Eloy Garcia, a lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Association, recently told an Assembly committee that the proposal is unfair and impossible to fulfill, the Times reported.
"It is entirely arbitrary, entirely aggressive, infeasible and we're not even sure what the main purpose is other than to punish petroleum resources," he said.
This story has been updated.