CA Gov. Schwarzenegger to hold global climate summit: How will it mesh with Obama’s climate agenda?


This week California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be hosting at least four governors and government officials from China, India, Australia, Mexico, Canada and several other countries at a “Global Climate Summit” in Beverly Hills.  Will the outcome of this summit be helpful to President-elect Obama’s new climate change negotiating team (still to be named) moving forward to the December 2009 climate treaty talks in Copenhagen?  Will Obama send a transition team representative to monitor the proceedings? 


Post by Anne Polansky

Early on in his administration, the Republican governor elevated climate change to a top priority, shepherded an aggressive climate bill into law, and has been tackling greenhouse gas emissions reductions and adaptation measures head on.  California’s efforts have been met by the Bush administration with passivity at best and obstruction at worst (e.g. the denial of a Clean Air Act waiver for California to impose stricter automobile emission standards).  Schwarzenegger has accused the Bush administration of being “asleep at the wheel” on climate change and is boldly moving forward on climate policy, with or without White House backing.  Before knowing whether McCain or Obama would prevail, he decided to assume a role usually reserved for the US President:  he has invited a host of international officials and all 50 state governors to consider post Kyoto-relevant climate solutions and to sign a declaration. 

The “Global Climate Summit” will take place Tuesday and Wednesday this week (November 18-19) at the Beverly Hills Hilton, a famous icon where the Golden Globe awards are held and US presidents going back to John F. Kennedy have organized major gatherings.  In other words, it is a high profile event. 

Out of the 50 invited, at least four other state governors plan to attend:

Charlie Crist, Florida
Jim Doyle, Wisconsin
Rod Blagojevich, Illinois
Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas

High-level government energy and environmental officials from a dozen or more nations will also attend, from “major emitter” countries such as China and India,  as well as Australia, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Indonesia, Brazil, and so on.  For those who can’t attend, a live feed is being provided.

Several notable Clinton administration people will participate:  former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, former EPA official (now director of CA Air Resources Board) Mary Nichols, and former Agriculture official Jim Lyons.

It is not as if the Governor of Delaware or Rhode Island is presuming to behave like a head of state:  California could easily be a nation all by itself.  It has a GDP of $1.8 trillion and is home to 37 million people; about the same as Poland or Kenya, and in the top fifth percentile in the world.  There are over 4 million people in the city of Los Angeles alone, about the same as in Norway, Costa Rica, or Ireland. 

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s sense of urgency in solving the climate crisis is understandable.  California is feeling the pain of climate disruption right now.  This week, out-of-control wildfires have destroyed over 34 square miles of land, leveled more than 800 homes (including apartments and mobile homes) and are still largely uncontrolled, worsened by unusually dry conditions producing an overabundance of fire fuel and spread quickly by the mighty Santa Ana winds.  The state is experiencing searing drought with no relief in sight; the Governor declared a statewide emergency in June 2008 and has put in place emergency measures to get water to the places it is needed most (see earlier post, here).  A multibillion dollar agriculture industry is at risk.  Moreover, the state has money troubles:  a $32 billion state budget deficit for FY 2009, the largest in the nation. 

It is difficult to tell how much importance or attention this event will receive among our neighbors around the world.  How might the meeting and its outcomes affect the upcoming climate discussions in Poznan, Poland next month, and the post-Kyoto negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009?  Hopefully, Schwarzenegger and the Obama transition team are making a positive connection.  In any case, it is time for the states, half of which now have climate action plans in place, and the new administration to show US solidarity on climate change and show the rest of the world that the US is now stepping up to the plate in good faith—something that is long overdue. 

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