Californians on vacation in recent weeks may not be aware that their Governor Jerry Brown attended a conference about climate change on July 21-22, 2015 at the Vatican, with Pope Francis in attendance. In addition to arranging for the attendance of Governor Brown, the Vatican also invited mayors of cities “of international importance” to attend the conference.
The mayors of San Francisco and San Jose accepted their invitations, along with mayors from eight other American cities. (The Mayor of Los Angeles did not attend but participated in a joint statement of support.) All attendees were Democrats, although the Vatican claimed that Republican mayors had been invited but declined.
Governor Brown also attended, and he came bearing a gift from the California legislature. Senate Resolution 37 calls on President Obama, the U.S. Congress, and California’s executive and legislative branches to consider the policy implications of the June 18, 2015 encyclical from Pope Francis on climate change.
Few commentators in California openly questioned the appropriateness of the legislature passing a resolution containing theological statements. Few wanted to openly consider the governmental and religious implications of their elected governor and big city mayors making an official visit to a theocratic city-state to discuss international affairs.
The conference came and went, but ordinary Californians could divine little from news reports about what this exercise meant for them. Why go to Vatican City, when a meaningful conference with constituents about taxpayer funding for urban tree planting could be held at the neighborhood community center? What was the public interest to justify the attendance of elected officials from California?
The whole thing seemed a little hasty, strange, and mysterious. And who paid for these trips, anyway?
By July 24, the agenda for the August 4 meeting of the San Jose City Council was released to the public. It contained a clue about who paid for the trip.
This agenda item inspired my request under the authority of the California Public Records Act to the Office of the Mayor for all documents and communications from the Vatican to the Mayor’s office. The Mayor’s staff responded to the request promptly and deserves to be praised for its commitment to openness and transparency.
Californians can better understand the actions of their governmental representatives if they see the documents that result in those actions. These documents show that mayors were invited to TWO separate events. One event was a July 21 “workshop” entitled Modern Slavery and Climate Change: The Commitment of the Cities. This was organized by the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Studies and intended to “contribute to the debate on the moral dimension of environmental protection.” At this event, the Mayor of San Jose spoke about “Smart Growth, Affordable Housing Mechanisms, and Divestment Policies for Irresponsible Banks Engaging in Unfair Foreclosures.”
The second event was a July 22 “Symposium on Cities and Sustainable Development” entitled Prosperity, People, and Planet in the Cities. It was organized by the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Studies in conjunction with the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The invitation noted that this network was “directed by Professor Jeffrey Sachs.” According to The Earth Institute website, Professor Sachs is “the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University.”
Regarding reimbursement of the Mayor’s expenses, the Vatican City State noted that it would “only fund the trip and accommodations of those mayors who really don’t have the means to be able to join us.” It reimbursed the Mayor for his airline ticket at the lowest economy fare of 2166 euros. It would not pay for his wife’s ticket or for expenses related to his “security detail” because “the Vatican administration does not allow us to pay any travel for guests who are not Mayors.”
The Vatican also paid for the mayor to spend two nights at the Church Palace Hotel, with the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network paying for a third night. The Vatican provided transportation between the airport and also provided some meals and entertainment.
What is the next step? The United Nations will adopt “Sustainable Development Goals” and follow-up with something in December 2015 at the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris. Meanwhile, the mayors are on board with a declaration about climate change.
PUBLIC RECORDS USED AS SOURCES
Program for Modern Slavery and Climate Change: The Commitment of the Cities workshop (see full program in color on the Vatican website: Conference Booklet)
Program for Prosperity, People, and Planet in the Cities – Symposium on Cities and Sustainable Development (see agenda in color on the Vatican website: Agenda)
“Authorize Mayor Liccardo’s travel to Vatican City on July 19, 2015 – July 22, 2015 for a meeting with Pope Francis and other international leaders as Mayor of the City of San Jose” – July 15, 2015 memo to San Jose City Council for August 4, 2015 meeting
SAMPLE MEDIA COVERAGE
GOP Snubs Vatican Climate Summit – U.S. News and World Report – July 22. 2015
Vatican Trip Hits Home for Mayor Liccardo – San Jose Mercury-News blog – July 16, 2015
Gov. Jerry Brown, Bay Area Mayors Head to Vatican for Climate-Change Meeting – San Jose Mercury-News – July 19, 2015
Gov. Brown Blasts Climate Change ‘Deniers’ During Vatican Conference – Los Angeles Times – July 21, 2015 (he “denounced climate change skeptics as well-financed ‘troglodytes’ determined to ‘bamboozle’ local leaders.”)
Mayor Liccardo Speaks on Wealth Gap at Vatican Symposium – San Jose Inside – July 22, 2015
Mayors Endorse UN Sustainability Goals at Vatican – Associated Press – July 22, 2015
Prosperity, People and Planet in the Cities: A Special Symposium of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network on Cities and the Sustainable Development Agenda website
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.