Last year, global efforts on climate change focused on Paris, where representatives from 195 countries hammered out a landmark agreement to limit warming.
This week, the diplomatic scrum shifts to San Francisco.
Energy ministers from the world’s largest economies — including the United States, China, India, Japan, Germany and Saudi Arabia — will converge on Union Square to discuss how to meet the Paris accord’s lofty goals. They will also meet with clean-tech entrepreneurs, many from Silicon Valley, whose products could help.
No major agreements on the scale of Paris are expected at the Clean Energy Ministerial and related events, which run from Tuesday to Friday. Instead, delegates will pursue the sometimes unglamorous work of finding and sharing ways to keep the planet from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius.
“I am very confident we are getting our act together as a state, as a country, as a world,” said Tom Steyer, a climate activist and former hedge fund manager who is scheduled to speak at the event. “But we have a very important job in front of us. … Are we done? Absolutely not.”
The conference comes at a time of immense promise and uncertainty.
Last year’s accord fueled hopes that governments worldwide would finally unite to rein in warming. And yet last week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, vowed to pull out of the agreement if elected. Delegates to the ministerial will surely be aware of his promise.
“It’s going to be really important to be clear that we are very, very serious about moving forward on this,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “Every country in this group has elections — almost every country — and that can change. But the fundamentals are that the public, including our public, is more and more expressing the view that climate change is real and needs to be addressed.”
The ministerial has been held once a year, in different countries, since 2010, bringing together government officials to discuss the transition to a clean-energy future. But for this year’s event, organizers chose the Bay Area, due to its emergence as the center of America’s clean-tech industry. Energy ministers will tour such companies as Tesla Motors and receive an update from Google on self-driving cars.
“This event really helps put ourselves on the map as what we’d like to be, which is the global headquarters of the clean-energy revolution,” said John Grubb, chief operating officer of the Bay Area Council, a business-oriented public policy group that helped organize the week’s activities.
The event, based at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, includes several parallel tracks, each with its own purpose.
While the ministerial focuses on rolling out clean technologies already available, delegates will also take part in meetings of the Mission Innovation effort launched by President Obama last year. Mission Innovation member countries pledge to double their spending on clean energy research and development over five years, hoping to find emission-cutting technologies.
Private financiers who have pledged to pour their own money into clean energy research will attend as well. Steyer, Bill Gates and other members of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which formed last year, will meet with energy ministers and entrepreneurs.
In Union Square, 95 clean-tech companies from 18 countries — making everything from efficient cooling systems to lightweight, 3-D-printed cars — will showcase their wares under an immense tent that will be open to the public (with a $10 cover charge at the door). The entrepreneurs there will also get face time with the energy ministers themselves, such as Piyush Goyal, the Indian government’s point man on power and new energy technologies.
“This is a big deal,” said Danny Kennedy, managing director of the California Clean Energy Fund, which helped organize the Startups & Solutions Showcase. “This is the guy who’s going to bring hundreds of millions of people electricity, and they want to do it with cleaner sources.”
Gov. Jerry Brown, meanwhile, will sign an agreement on Wednesday with West Coast governors and mayors from both the United States and Canada to coordinate climate change efforts across the region. Brown has aggressively pushed the idea of “subnational” action on global warming, courting city, state and provincial officials worldwide to sign his “Under 2 MOU” for reining in emissions.
And on Tuesday, Stanford University will host a symposium highlighting the role of women in decarbonizing the global economy.
Like Steyer, other participants view the current moment in global climate action with both concern and hope.
“We have technology today, at scale, deployable today and tomorrow, that can do it and get us off dirty energy,” Kennedy said. “We now have to do it. We need the political will.”