Not Waiting for Copenhagen: Sub-National Leaders Forge Ahead with Climate Action

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This week’s Governors’ Global Climate Summit was all about creating momentum going into Copenhagen and demonstrating the critical role of sub-nationals — the state, provincial and regional leaders who will implement an estimated 50-80 percent of the international reduction targets set.

The leaders wrapped up their three-day summit in Los Angeles today by signing several declarations and statements, including pledging to pursue cleaner transportation methods, urging their national governments to include forest protection in any climate deal at Copenhagen, and offering technical assistance on low-carbon development in developing countries.

“We will be there to lead this battle!” Quebec Premier Jean Charest told the audience.

“When they write the story from Rio to Kyoto to Copenhagen, a big part of the story of the change from Kyoto to Copenhagen will be the leadership role of sub-nationals,” he said. “We did not wait for our national governments to move.”

And indeed, Terry Tamminen, one of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s key advisors on climate change, showed maps covering almost every country in the world where policies are already in place to promote energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reductions, fuel efficiency standards and renewable energy portfolios. Most of those policies started at the state, provincial or regional level.

Schwarzenegger, whose own state has been a trailblazer in progressive environmental and climate policies in the United States, echoed Charest’s pledge to lead. He added his own Hollywood-infused spin — the movie Saturday Night Fever did more to increase the number of discotheques than any national program could have done — basically telling national governments that anything you can do, we can do better.

While former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair made the case for an international treaty and the need for concrete, implementable action, Schwarzenegger admonished that too much attention was being paid to the politics of the meeting rather than to taking action.

“While nations are negotiating, there’s no reason that the regional level shouldn’t get the action going,” Schwarzenegger said. “Let them be the dialogue; let us be the inspiration.”

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, was optimistic about the momentum leading into the Copenhagen summit, but he also warned that Copenhagen would not be the end of the road and said he expected the fifth IPCC assessment, due in 2013, to jolt the world into even more action.

“We must accept that this battle is not a one-day affair," he said. "We must change our value systems.”

Following journalist Thomas Friedman’s discussion of the nine Americas in the world today — the units of 300 million people living and consuming like Americans — Pachuari suggested that perhaps Americans should also become a little “less American” in their consumption patterns.

Ultimately, though, the close of the summit was not about admonitions but about agreements.

First, 11 governors from Brazil, Indonesia and the United States signed a letter to their national leaders urging them to include forest protection in any climate deal at Copenhagen. It was an important development, said Steve Schwartzman, director of Tropical Forest Policy at Environmental Defense Fund:

“Sub-national governments are already leading the way on climate change. California’s regulation on tailpipe emissions is a perfect example. Coordinated action on deforestation by U.S. and tropical states can produce real emissions reductions even if nations can’t reach agreement, while also showing the way forward."

Schwarzenegger also signed a Statement of Intent in partnership with the United Nations Development Program to offer technical assistance to Africa for low-carbon development.

In addition, the California governor signed a partnership agreement between his state and Jiangsu Province, known as the California of China, to advance climate policies, share best practices and cooperate on technology solutions. It is the first state-level agreement between China and the U.S. to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, 30 global leaders signed a declaration committing to work together to pursue clean transportation and mobility solutions, support national climate change legislation, include forests in climate policy development, acknowledge the need for adaptation efforts, and recognize the role of sub-national governments in global climate negotiations at Copenhagen.

“We are the high speed rail,” Schwarzenegger told the audience, “and there is no pit stop. The next stop is Copenhagen.”


See also:

Forests Loom Large at Governors’ Global Climate Summit

Global Leaders Describe Climate Change in Action, Growing Need for Adaptation

Governors’ Global Climate Summit Opens with Eye Toward Copenhagen

Ignoring Climate Change Carries a High Price Tag