Global Climate Action Summit sparks protests, governor calls Trump, 'criminal, liar, fool'

- Protesters temporarily blocked the streets in San Francisco on Thursday as a Global Climate Action Summit was underway nearby, criticizing California's governor who they say could do more for the environment.

Just before 9 a.m., about 500 activists carrying signs that read "Protect Mother Earth" and "It Takes Roots" blocked the intersection of 3rd and Folsom streets, a block away from the Moscone Center, where the summit was behind held. The road reopened well before noon.

VIDEO: Governor calls Donald Trump a "criminal, liar and a fool"

Some of the activists came as far away as North Dakota, Brazil and the Amazon. They're part of a group  called, "Brown's Last Chance Coalition." 

Much of their focus is against Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown is the host and co-chair of the summit, which is a conference for government and industry leaders, scientists and activists to talk about ways to fight climate change, particularly at the local and state level.

But the organizers of this demonstration say they are upset that  Brown has approved more than 20,000 new oil drilling permits in California during his tenure. They also want him to ban fracking and move California away from fossil fuel production. Other activists were upset about cap and trade policies, which they say essentially allows participants to sell the right to pollute.

"California is still one of the country's top oil-producing states," said Kassie Siegel, Climate Law Institute Director for the Oakland-based Center for Biological Diversity. 

Earlier this week, Brown had said that he can't tackle climate change alone and that the issue shouldn't be a partisan one. He has also said that fossil fuel use and production should be phased out slowly.

Separately, when a reporter on Thursday morning asked Brown how he feels President Trump will feel about climate change and the environment, Brown quipped that he thinks Trump will be remembered as a "liar, criminal, fool. Pick your choice." Brown added that reducing coal regulations and subsidizing it, as well as reducing California vehicle standards, are major assaults on the well-being of people in the state and in the world. 

However, many of the business leaders, mayors, governors and activists from around the world are trumpeting their new efforts to slow a warming world. 

The summit will involve trillions of dollars of pledges for spending on cleaner energy and getting out of investments in heat-trapping fossil fuels, according to officials involved. And it will include a newer way of fighting climate change by emphasizing more climate-friendly land use, food production and diets, along with massive increases in forests - something one expert called "the forgotten climate solution." Cities, states, businesses and charitable foundations are all going to get in the act.

"It's a bit like a game show," said summit communications director Nick Nuttall. "It's going to be loads of Hollywood style announcements."  A smattering of celebrities such as musician Dave Matthews and actor Alec Baldwin will add a touch of red carpet feel to the summit, which started Wednesday.

And when you are talking about shifting trillions of dollars to finance initiatives, the private sector needs to get involved and that's happening, said Nigel Purvis, chief executive officer of the non-profit Climate Advisers and a former climate negotiator in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

"This is the climate action summit, emphasis on the action," Purvis said. "Despite the lack of leadership from Washington, it's really about action."

But so far such pledges have produced more talk than action, said Angel Hsu, an environment professor at Yale University and the National University of Singapore. She is the lead author of a United Nations report released Monday on what businesses, states and local governments can do and already have done.

That report says businesses and lower levels of government have the potential to cut enough greenhouse gases emissions to keep global warming below the danger point of another 2 degrees Fahrenheit  from now. However, the same report says so far, 8,000 pledges from those groups haven't accomplished much.

To keep from hitting that 2 degree mark, the world has to cut its expected annual emissions by nearly 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, including what's pledged in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The businesses and states basically get about 4 percent there, according to Hsu.

"It's not much," she said. "We were actually shocked to find that the numbers were so low."

Hsu also looked at pledges made in 2002 in a South Africa conference and found that 65 percent of the pledges had no records showing they were acted upon.

This week's summit aims to create momentum for 2020 when world leaders return to the bargaining table to pledge even deeper cuts of heat-trapping emissions than set out in 2015, said Christiana Figueres, the former top United Nations climate official. She proposed this summit right after the Paris agreement was signed.

"This is sort of the real economy speaking for itself," Figueres said. She hopes the summit creates a "virtuous cycle" where businesses and states spur national governments to do better, which in turn spurs businesses again.

Pete Ogden, a former Obama climate and national security official and now a vice president at the United Nations Foundation, said "if Paris is going to work it needs to have that positive feedback loop."

Showing what people closer to the action can do and are doing to fight global warming will help global leaders pledge to do more when they gather in 2020, Ogden and Figueres said.

The key for Canada is phasing out coal - the dirtiest fossil fuel - by 2030, said Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna.

"It's really important to showcase that the world is moving forward on climate action," McKenna said. "Everyone is acting on climate change not only because it is the right thing to do but also because there's a huge economic opportunity."

As the market gets on board on with climate friendly actions, she said, that makes "the billions flow into trillions."

Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.

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