Schwarzenegger, Brown rally climate activists and policymakers to influence Paris talks

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 9, 2014

California climate policy luminaries are meeting today in Sacramento to argue that regional cooperation on reducing emissions is possible, even in the face of international gridlock.

The three-hour conference is organized by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and will feature veterans from the state, federal and international levels of climate policy, including Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, Gov. Jerry Brown (D), former U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols.

Schwarzenegger is delivering a broad-gauged message leading up to next year’s U.N. climate talks in Paris: that action now is worth more than action later, that combating climate change goes hand in hand with economic growth and that bottom-up movements are the source of progress on climate.

“That’s part of the lesson,” said Terry Tamminen, a former head of the California EPA under Schwarzenegger who now helps run an international nonprofit founded by the former governor in 2010 to coordinate regional climate policies. “Even if you’re a relatively small jurisdiction but can band together with others, you can do things at a scale that matter.”

The conference is intended “both to arm, if you will, with additional tools, the people coming that are leaders in this,” said Bonnie Reiss, global director at the Schwarzenegger Institute at the University of Southern California and former secretary of Education in the Schwarzenegger administration, “and to put together this level of body of information, research and talking points that the California delegation will be using when it goes to the U.N. conferences and other regional events outside of California.”

Action in the United States has been stymied on the congressional level, but President Obama has still managed to regulate greenhouse gas emissions sector by sector, from automobile fuel standards to power plants, Tamminen pointed out.

That demonstrates the power of piecemeal measures, he said. “He will have tackled a good 60 to 70 percent of what we would have done under some more comprehensive program.”

The economic argument is one that is still alive in California, with industry mounting opposition to the state’s cap-and-trade program on the grounds that it will increase gasoline prices if it expands to cover transportation fuels, as it is scheduled to do in January (Greenwire, Aug. 26).

The state is also working on its emissions trajectory post-2020 and is preparing to set a midterm target around 2030 and broaden its focus on electric-sector emissions, transportation and short-lived climate pollutants, among other areas (ClimateWire, May 16).

Today’s event is a preamble to a two-day conference Schwarzenegger is holding next month in Paris. That gathering will include officials from Austria, France and Nigeria and is aimed at drawing attention to subnational commitments and defining a “positive agenda” leading up to next year’s 21st Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, where nations will try to come to an agreement on mandatory emissions reductions.

The meeting will kick off “a one-year drumbeat starting in Paris,” Tamminen said, aimed at increasing national officials’ comfort level with binding commitments. “National governments should not be afraid to make bold pledges and find ways to implement them,” he said.

Schwarzenegger continues climate focus

California — and Schwarzenegger — deserves credit for pushing the federal government to act, observers said. The 2006 law A.B. 32, which set a state target of 1990 emissions levels by 2020, went against federal policy on climate change.

“When he made California’s commitments, it was quite at odds to the then-incumbent administration in Washington,” said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, a nonprofit coalition of environmental groups and clean energy businesses that participates in California energy policymaking.

An environmentalist attending the conference agreed on California’s significance. “The EPA Clean Power Plan and the focus on ‘bottom up’ leadership internationally makes California’s success even more relevant,” said Derek Walker, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s U.S. climate and energy program.

The think tank Resources for the Future is holding a separate event tomorrow to discuss California’s experiences as they relate to the EPA’s proposal to regulate existing power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, along with officials from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Northeast regional cap-and-trade program that covers power plant emissions.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger’s R20 nonprofit has been helping the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro replace 1.5 million streetlights with LED bulbs. “Anything you can do sooner is more beneficial,” Tamminen said. “A ton of greenhouse gases you save today is worth far more than 5 tons you save 10 years from now.”

White said he thinks the focus on regional and subnational efforts makes sense.

“I think the more realistic and hopeful opportunity comes from a combination of national commitments and subnational commitments and even mayoral, city-level efforts,” White said.

Instead of “trying to shove everything into a Kyoto-style treaty we can’t even get adopted at the moment, which leads to a sense of failure and loss of momentum,” he said, governments should pursue a “silver buckshot strategy where you’ve got different things going on in different places.”

The conference will last only three hours but will include appearances by state lawmakers, entertainers like Ed Begley Jr., and executives from UPS, Apple and California’s state pension system, CalPERS. Speakers are allotted 14 minutes at the most, and panels are less than 45 minutes long.

“You get diminishing returns,” Tamminen said. “A lot of conferences, by the time you get past the 60-minute mark, you’re hearing people say the same thing again.”

And the schedule will allow Schwarzenegger and Brown to attend the unveiling of Schwarzenegger’s official gubernatorial portrait in the afternoon.