SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Jerry Brown is heading to the U.N. Climate Change conference, which opens Monday, where he will promote the state's efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and urge other states and provinces to sign on to his climate pact.
So far, 57 jurisdictions from 19 countries have added their signatures to a memorandum promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
Brown, a Democrat, has toured the world talking about climate change this year, seeking to build a legacy on the issue before he leaves office in 2018.
But at home in California, he has also faced repeated criticism for supporting expanded oil drilling and refusing to ban hydraulic fracturing — positions climate activists say undermine his global warming message.
California already has some of the world's toughest air-quality standards and set a mandate in 2006 to derive a third of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal by 2020. That legislation, signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also established the first U.S. program to cap and trade emissions by enabling polluters to buy and sell credits in carbon auctions.
Brown has sought to expand those efforts, signing legislation this fall requiring the state to boost renewable electricity use to 50 percent and double energy efficiency in existing buildings by 2030. Still, Brown and Democratic leaders were forced to drop a mandate to cut California's oil use in half by 2030 amid heavy oil industry lobbying.
The governor has called politicians who refuse to acknowledge the devastating effects of climate change "troglodytes" and says complacency on this issue "threatens the well-being of humanity itself."
Those signing on to his climate pact include regions of Germany, Brazil, China and Canada. In an address to mayors from around the world at the Vatican this summer, he urged them to stand firm against "hundreds of millions of dollars going into propaganda, into falsifying the scientific record, bamboozling people of every country."
Still, Brown made clear early in his current stint as governor that he was going to push oil production in California as well as renewable energy. He has rejected calls to ban hydraulic fracturing for oil, prompting opponents to dub him "Big Oil Brown."
California has maintained its spot as the country's No. 3 oil-producing state. Brown boasted of firing state oil regulators whom oil companies accused of slowing permits out of environmental concerns. Last year, he had regulators research the oil and gas potential of his family ranch, although Brown's aides denied the governor had any intention of drilling there. Federal environmental regulators say his administration failed to fully enforce federal laws meant to contain oil field pollution.
The Sacramento Bee reported that Brown flew on a private plane to Italy last summer to appear at the Vatican's climate change conference. For the U.N. climate conference in Paris, Brown will be flying on a commercial airline, spokesman Evan Westrup said.
The oil industry remains a powerful political force in California, and Brown is not always at odds with it. He has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign and charitable contributions from oil and gas interests, including $55,000 this year to his two Oakland charter schools.
Meeting calendars obtained under the California Public Records Act show he blocked off two hours for an Oakland dinner meeting in June with Chevron CEO John Watson and lobbyist Michael Rubio. A week later, his schedule shows an hourlong lunch with climate activist and major Democratic donor Tom Steyer.
Brown made clear last year that he is aware of the tension between encouraging both oil production and oil conservation. A June 2014 email by his top state oil regulator, obtained under state open-records laws, featured Brown asking "what amount of oil and gas we ought to leave in the ground" to meet climate change standards.
As in other areas, however, Brown is a pragmatist when it comes to advancing the state's environmental goals without threatening its economy. He has earned recognition as a leader by mapping out a transition from fossil fuels to solar, wind and other renewables, establishing the carbon pricing system and setting ambitious conservation targets.
"The governor is living in the real world, and in the real world, we need fuel for the vehicles that are on the road today," said Amy Myers Jaffe, an international energy expert at the University of California, Davis.