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Rep. Jared Huffman, 2 local leaders report on UN climate change conference

United by their environmental advocacy, North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman and two other local leaders — Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins and Ellie Cohen, CEO of The Climate Center — are attending the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Press Democrat reached out to all three Wednesday as the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference continues to make headlines while seeking ways to rein in greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Here are their accounts:

Rep. Jared Huffman

Huffman, one of 21 House Democrats in the congressional delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said Wednesday that lawmakers were inspired by their experience in Glasgow.

“This is a decade of action, and the stakes of inaction have become all too clear,” he said at a press conference. House members “have a critical role to play — we need some inspiration, we need some optimism, we need to stay motivated.”

“And we got plenty of that here at COP26,” he said.

Huffman, D-San Rafael, could not be reached for comment via repeated emails to his office. He is a member of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis and a recognized environmental leader in Congress.

The delegation was energized by its meeting Tuesday with John Kerry, the former secretary of state now serving as the first United States special presidential envoy for climate under President Joe Biden, Huffman said.

Calling Kerry’s optimism “palpable,” Huffman said “so is his incredible substantive command of every single issue at stake in this climate crisis.”

The congressional delegation included three other Californians: Reps. Julia Brownley of Westlake Village, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach and Mike Levin of Oceanside.

Huffman said the lawmakers will take their “sense of inspiration and optimism back with us to Washington because we’ve got work to finish in the House.”

He did not cite any specific legislative goals or programs.

Lynda Hopkins, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chair

While high-level negotiations among global leaders are the focus of the COP26 summit, local governments are making a mark, Hopkins said.

“The collective impact of local government is tremendous,” Hopkins said in a telephone interview, citing a “groundswell of energy for climate science in local governments around the world.”

“No matter what the conference officially does, we’re going to be battling climate change on our own,” she said.

Hopkins is an official observer at the conference involving 25,000 delegates from 200 countries aimed at submitting 2030 emissions reduction targets aligned with achieving net-zero by midcentury.

U.N. scientists said Tuesday the short-term plans make many net-zero pledges impossible and would most likely lead to global warming that exceeds the world’s shared goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

While she can observe but not participate in the official negotiations, Hopkins said “a lot of the action” takes place in the pavilion where “amazing panels” of experts discuss climate solutions throughout the day.

Hopkins said she wears three hats at the conference as a supervisor and as representative of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Global Council for Science and the Environment, which aims to connect research institutions with local governments.

While she can recount Sonoma County’s deadly wildfires with others at the conference, Hopkins said “the scary thing is there are more of us in the climate experience space,” ranging from Australian wildfires to floods on the U.S. East Coast.

Since arriving last week, she spends 12 to 13 hours a day at the immense SEC Centre, capped by a 45-minute walk back to her rental home.

“It’s a long day. I’m not getting much sleep,” Hopkins said, with scant time to go sightseeing in Scotland’s most populous city.

Hopkins said she signed the Edinburgh Declaration, which recognizes the role of local governments in promoting natural biodiversity.

Cutting the phone call short, Hopkins said, “I gotta run to a meeting.”

Ellie Cohen, CEO of The Climate Center

Cohen, whose Santa Rosa-based nonprofit organization is an official conference observer, said she was both enthused and dismayed by the proceedings.

“It’s inspiring to be with tens of thousands of people all working to solve the climate crisis,” she said in an email.

The conference of so many like-minded people afforded her an “amazing opportunity to network with key California leaders on climate policy” and meet climate activists from other states and countries, Cohen said.

However, Cohen, who has attended two other COPs, also said it was “daunting to see how slow progress really is — too slow for the climate system’s deterioration we are already seeing.”

She was also dismayed by a report counting the presence of nearly 600 people representing oil and gas interests, larger than any nation’s delegation.

“They are making their voices heard in a different way than those out in the streets,” said Cohen, who joined about 100,000 people at a protest Saturday.

The Climate Center’s 12-member delegation included Democratic state Sens. Josh Becker of Menlo Park and John Laird of Santa Cruz, and Assembly Member Tasha Boerner Horvath of Encinitas.

The Glasgow conference differs from the others, she said, noting a “much greater awareness of the urgency,” with everyone “saying the right thing” but not necessarily “acting in the way needed.”

The conference revealed the “vast inequality” between the world’s major greenhouse gas emitters, including the United States and “especially California,” versus nations bearing the harmful impacts, largely in the Southern Hemisphere, Cohen said.

At the same time, there are nations and states implementing “impressive climate-friendly projects” from Denmark to Indonesia to Sao Paulo in Brazil, she said.

She’s spent six to 11 hours a day at the conference and walked 4 to 5 miles going to events within the spacious center.

“Thanks and good night,” she emailed just after 11 p.m. Wednesday in Scotland.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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