Newsom’s trip comes at a moment of rising tensions between the US and China over human rights, trade, Taiwan, and international conflicts.
California Governor Gavin Newsom kicked off his weeklong trip to China with a visit to the University of Hong Kong (HKU) on Monday, where he praised his state’s efforts in combating climate change and highlighted the importance of collaboration and partnerships with other countries.
In a fireside chat with HKU vice-president Gong Peng, Newsom repeatedly commended China’s efforts in green technology development, particularly in the electric vehicles sector and renewable energy, as well as Hong Kong’s carbon footprint disclosure, saying the purpose of his trip is not to preach but “to steal good ideas.”
Similar to California, Hong Kong is at the forefront of the climate crisis. Just last month, the city witnessed its highest recorded hourly rainfall since 1884, resulting in flash flooding that caused injuries to over 100 residents and brought the city to a standstill.
Addressing an audience of faculty members, students, and private sector leaders, Governor Newsom discussed the harsh realities of climate change faced by both Hong Kong and California, highlighting their proactive approaches in tackling the climate crisis. California, a fossil fuel-state and currently the world’s fifth-largest economy, is at the forefront of climate change, being often hit by devastating wildfires and notorious for having some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country, which threaten the well-being of its 40 million residents and entire ecosystems.
Under Newsom’s leadership, the state unveiled an ambitious roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, and several stringent laws passed in recent years and aimed at improving air quality in the state, reducing carbon emissions, and promoting green innovation helped position California as a leading model for climate change action.
“We’re the temple of the US economy in terms of jobs, of innovation … We pride ourselves on being on the leading and cutting edge of new ideas,” said Newsom, who repeatedly highlighted that the state boasts more than a half-million green jobs and has six times more clean jobs than fossil fuel jobs.
In August 2022, California became the first jurisdiction in the country to ban the sale of gas-powered cars in the state by 2035. The move sparked a race to enact similar legislation in other US states, such as New York, explained Newsom. “We’re moving markets nationally and globally. That’s an example of California punching above its weight,” he said.
When signing the law, governor acknowledged some of the criticism he faced when he first proposed the ban three years ago, including the still prohibitive prices of electric vehicles as well as a rather small charging station network. Nevertheless, since passing the ban, California has made great strides to support the transition to green vehicles, expanding infrastructure to about 93,000 operating charging stations, and recently hitting 27% share of zero-emission vehicles sold in the state, according to Newsom.
This, he said, is an example of how the state is supporting the private sector. “Policies are an accelerator, the private sector is now coming in. The market is starting to recognise opportunities.”
More recently, Newsom enacted two far-reaching climate laws, one requiring the more than 5,300 billion-dollar businesses in the state – including Apple, Walmart, Chevron, and Google – to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions publicly, and one requiring the more than 10,000 California-based companies making $500 million a year or more to report their climate-related financial risks.
Climate reporting is nothing new in the US. Last year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) advanced a proposal requiring all US-listed companies to disclose and report their climate-related risks and greenhouse gas emissions as part of President Joe Biden’s ambitious decarbonisation efforts.
However, California’s law is far-reaching, as it requires big companies to not only measure their direct emissions but also so-called scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions, indirect emissions from an organisation which include products a company buys from third parties, the carbon dioxide output from business travel and employees commuting to work, and the emissions generated from shipping and using the company’s goods. Similar requirements are in place in the European Union, an indisputable leader in climate action.
Newsom’s stop-over in Hong Kong was heavily criticised by US-based pro-democracy and human rights organisations, which issued a joint statement last week arguing that the Governor’s singular focus on climate issues “sets a problematic tone for future diplomatic engagement” that benefits the territory’s sanctioned leaders.
Over the next six days, Newsom and his delegation will travel to Beijing, Shanghai, and the provinces of Jiangsu and Guangdong, where he is expected to meet with regional leaders and businesses to advance climate collaboration and visit manufacturing facilities such as an offshore wind plants in Jiangsu in the hope to to advance climate collaboration and speed up the state’s adoption of renewable energy.
“We must radically change the way we produce and consume energy, and it won’t be enough if we act alone. This is a global crisis and it requires a global response,” Newsom said in a statement ahead of his trip. “The long-standing partnership – and competition – between California and China has led to measurable progress: electrification of ports, cleaning our air of smog and pollution, and innovating new technologies that build economies. This visit is an opportunity to share our successes, learn from one another and continue driving an ambitious climate agenda.”
Featured image: Office of the Governor of California/Flickr
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