California governor abruptly skips UN climate conference

Gavin Newsom

FILE – On the hood of an electric car, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs an executive order requiring all new passenger vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035 after a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Gov. Newsom has changed plans and won’t be going to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Newsom’s office cited “family obligations” as the reason. (Daniel Kim/The Sacramento Bee via AP, Pool, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom says unspecified “family obligations” are responsible for his abrupt decision to cancel a trip to next week’s United Nations Cllimate Change Conference in Scotland.

Newsom will take part virtually while Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a fellow Democrat, will lead the California delegation in Glasgow, it was announced Friday.

Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, also canceled her trip.

Kounalakis told The Associated Press that she spoke to Newsom on Thursday and had a sense she might be asked to attend conference.

“The governor has a young family and we should all be understanding, especially those of us who have been there,” said Kounalakis, who has two grown sons.

Newsom has four children, ages 5 to 12. The governor’s spokesperson, Erin Mellon, declined to provide details of what prompted the change of plans.

Newsom has spoken passionately about the need to act decisively on climate change issues. He has proposed a ban on the sale of all new gas-powered cars in California by 2035, a ban on all oil drilling by 2045 and outlawing the sale of gas-powered lawn equipment by 2024 or whenever state regulators determine that is feasible.

“He loves this issue, he cares about it a lot. It’s a big deal to him, and I’m sure he desperately wanted to go,” said Democratic state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, who is attending the conference.

But “at some point, as much as we want to be out there in politics, you’re a human being,” Hertzberg said. “You’ve got to take care of your family.”

The delegation will include state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and more than a dozen lawmakers along with top members of the administration.

It would have been Newsom’s most significant international trip as governor of the nation’s most populous state and would have provided him with a global platform to highlight his environmental agenda.

Last month, Newsom easily beat back a Republican-backed recall election to remove him. He is a heavy favorite to win a second term next year, which under California law would be his last.

Canceling the trip is unlikely to hurt him politically and, in fact, attending it might have been detrimental, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a professor of public policy communication at the University of Southern California.

“The optics of his leaving the country, assuming there’s something happening that needs his attention at home, would be totally negative,” she said.

“He won’t be able to hobnob and network, but he will be visible,” she added. “As long as there is Zoom, as long as there is a means of virtual face-to-face communication, I don’t think he’ll be off the radar screen.”

Top administration officials planning to attend include natural resources secretary Wade Crowfoot, environmental protection secretary Jared Blumenfeld, California Air Resources Board Chair Liane Randolph, agriculture secretary Karen Ross and senior climate adviser Lauren Sanchez.


Associated Press reporter Don Thompson contributed.

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