SAN FRANCISCO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After a week in which cities and companies announced plans to speed action on global warming, a San Francisco climate summit ended Friday with host California promising to launch its own satellite to track major emissions sources.
The commitment came as Hurricane Florence swept into North Carolina, battering residents with heavy rain and 90-mph (144-kph) winds. Scientists say climate change is likely to increase the intensity and frequency of such extreme weather.
“Against this urgent and scary backdrop and against the backdrop of inaction in Washington DC ... we also heard a way forward” against climate change at the summit, said Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan state governor.
Company executives unveiled expanded plans to reduced climate-changing emissions, and mayors and governors committed to abandon coal and champion clean energy, she told 4,500 delegates to the summit.
Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said the gathering marked the start of more united climate action by government bodies and agencies beyond the U.S. national government, with disparate alliances and initiatives now “gelling”.
The gathering organized by California Governor Jerry Brown ended with Brown announcing the West Coast state was venturing into space monitoring of climate-changing emissions.
“We’re gonna launch our own satellite ... to figure out where the pollution is and where we’re going to end it,” the governor said.
The satellite would help pinpoint the source of highly potent greenhouse gases, including methane, the governor’s office said in a press release.
In May, the journal Science reported that the White House planned to cut funding for a satellite and aircraft-based system to monitor climate-changing emissions.
Brown has been particularly outspoken in the face of the President Donald Trump’s plans, announced last year, to retreat from the 2015 Paris climate pact.
The governor had previously vowed to launch a satellite to track climate change data if the federal government suspended its own efforts.
The Paris accord aims to limit the rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The San Francisco summit saw a torrent of new pledges of climate action, from companies promising to bring their greenhouse gas emissions to zero to governors committing to work with indigenous people to protect forests.
Major announcements included 21 tech companies joining forces to cut greenhouse gases, investors managing $5.6 trillion in assets saying they would halt deforestation and Indian conglomerate Mahindra promising to slash its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2040.
The commitments “have added momentum to that global movement,” said former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, an outspoken climate change campaigner.
“We are seeing businesses lead the way, we are seeing investors lead the way, we are seeing cities and counties and all kinds of civic organizations leading the way,” he said.
The summit also included a push for more efforts to trap climate-changing emissions in forests, soils, oceans and other natural systems.
The summit included “many bold commitments in areas that were already maturing, like renewable energy,” Nick Nuttall, a conference spokesman, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
But it was also clear that natural ways to store carbon need to be used more effectively quickly to deal with growing climate threats, he said.
Earth’s oceans, forests and other ecosystems soak up about half the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by human activities each year, scientists say.
In closing remarks, U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa also called for a new era of climate diplomacy that includes not just national governments but also cities and regional bodies as well as industries - an approach she dubbed “inclusive multilateralism”.
Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Laurie Goering Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org