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Climate, Air, and Energy

ClimateWire, November 18, 2008

Schwarzenegger upstages Washington in climate change diplomacy
By Debra Kahn, ClimateWire reporter

SAN FRANCISCO -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is continuing his plunge into foreign relations this week, hosting an international cast of the heaviest greenhouse gas emitters, with an agenda aimed at progress toward a successor to the Kyoto Protocol to curb climate change.

Of about 1,400 invited guests, 600 will be attending the two-day conference beginning today at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Participants include officials from China, India and the European Union, as well as executives from companies such as Chevron, Wal-Mart and Cemex in both the renewable and traditional energy sectors and other industries.

Other state leaders in attendance include Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D). Representatives from Colorado, Michigan, Utah and Washington will also be on hand to sign any summit declarations that need to be ratified.

As the leader of the largest economy within the United States, which is the only industrialized nation that has not signed the Kyoto Protocol, Schwarzenegger has played the novel role of a subnational treaty broker. Although California cannot sign treaties with foreign nations, Schwarzenegger has made an international reputation for himself through a number of statewide and international agreements to cut emissions. These include the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, otherwise known as A.B. 32; and the Western Climate Initiative, a cap-and-trade emissions market in the works among several U.S. states, Canadian provinces and Mexican states.

As a signal of the unusual nature of California's role -- and perhaps as a nod to the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama -- the summit's agenda includes a disclaimer in the description of a session on partnerships between developed and developing state and provincial governments.

"These actions are not intended to displace the existing successful efforts to create a highly credible offset market, establish economy-wide caps on emissions, or any other actions by our respective states and provinces or federal governments," the agenda says.

Sending 'a powerful message to the rest of the world'

Building on the state's success in forming de facto treaties with international entities, Schwarzenegger will sign a declaration with Indonesia and Brazil to develop efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation. The agreement could make it cheaper for California businesses to achieve emissions reductions by allowing them to invest in afforestation projects abroad.

The summit will also feature sessions on emissions reporting standards, the role of forestry and agriculture, the transportation sector and the cement, steel, iron and aluminum industries.

Australia, Canada, Mexico and Poland will also be represented at the summit. Leaders from participating countries will sign a declaration at the end of the conference to work together to reduce emissions while providing for economic growth. "This declaration will help advance efforts being undertaken by our national governments for the next global agreement on climate change," Schwarzenegger's office said.

While all acknowledge Schwarzenegger's previous efforts to curb emissions, some wonder at his persistence. Now that a new president has been elected, the international community expects some kind of national emissions-curbing plan within the next two years. Obama's accession is also expected to help in the preparations for a U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, next year to draft a Kyoto successor.

The head of California's Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols, voiced skepticism to the Los Angeles Times. "Why are we doing this now, with a new administration in Washington?" she said. "I was concerned it would look like grandstanding."

But Schwarzenegger seemed focused on potential roadblocks from outside the United States. "Through this collaboration, we are sending a powerful message to the rest of the world, while striving to influence the position our national governments take in the next global agreement on climate change," he said in a statement.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton