Schwarzenegger brings glamour and a serious message to ‘Hopenhagen’

December 16, 2009 | 00:00

Schwarzenegger brings glamour and a serious message to ‘Hopenhagen’

Introduced yesterday at the Copenhagen climate talks as a ‘climate action hero’, the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, urged a select audience of delegates and journalists to recognise the role that ‘sub-national’ governments are playing in mitigating climate change. Calling on the UN to organise a climate change summit for regions, states and cities, he proclaimed: ‘80% of greenhouse gas mitigation will be done at the sub-national level.’

As the crucial second week of talks at the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen started to pick up momentum yesterday, movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, now governor of California, caused a frisson when it was announced that journalists would need special tickets to hear him speak.

There are 3,500 journalists covering the climate talks. In a scene reminiscent of the old Keystone Cops movies, a substantial proportion of them rushed out of the media centre to get tickets – most of them going the wrong way. As they ran, bystanders asked where everyone was going, some even joining in the rush.

While there have been many famous people at the talks, with many more yet to arrive, not least over 115 heads of state and government, Schwarzenegger combines A-list celeb status with a record of real action in combating climate change, a case of life imitating art. As governor of California – on its own the world’s seventh-largest economy – he has implemented a string of innovative environmental policies that have been much admired, some of which are being copied elsewhere.

Introducing the session at which Schwarzenegger was to speak, Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said: ‘Ministers and leaders are assembling here in Copenhagen to give their definitive answer to climate change. And the world must take action now, next decade and into the middle of the next century to avoid the worst. Above all it must be implemented at the front line. And that means at the regional level and at the urban level. The governors and the premier that you will hear speak [at this session] have not waited for action at the national level, to move ahead. Up to now sub-national governments have been one of the prime drivers of climate change legislation at the national level.’

Schwarzenegger was quick to pick up this theme: ‘Certainly it would be terrific if the world’s governments reached an agreement and put hard caps on greenhouse gases, while generously helping poor nations, who are least responsible and are least able to respond to climate change. Attempting to reach such an agreement is very very important. But why do we put so many hopes and eggs in the national agreement basket? According to the UN itself, up to 80% of greenhouse gas mitigation will be done at the sub-national level ... The national agreements, critical as they are, will never do enough ... While national governments have been fighting over emission targets, sub-national governments have been adopting their own targets and laws and policies. While national governments have been trying for years to define what Kyoto means, businesses are pursuing cutting-edge technologies to solve energy and environmental problems ... I believe in the power of the cities and the states and the provinces to be the laboratories for new ideas, which the national governments can then go and study and adopt.’

Schwarzennegger added that California had been working with cities, states, provinces, regions and nations, in Mexico, Canada, Europe and China. It has also been working with the UN to assist developing countries, especially in Africa.

‘We in California do not believe [that] progress has to wait for Washington, or Beijing, or Kyoto. In California we are proceeding on renewable energy requirements, and a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases. If hydro is included we will get 45% of our energy from renewables in ten years from now. We are already at 27%. We are proceeding on the world’s first low-carbon fuel standards, and limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars, which, by the way, the Obama administration has just adopted. We are proceeding in a major way with Greentech, no matter what happens in Washington or in Copenhagen. Billions of dollars, nearly 60% of all venture capital in America, flows to California. This is creating the critical mass of money and intellect to create new green technologies. Leaders from around the world are coming to California to see what we are doing.’

Schwarzenegger said he believed that technological and economic forces would overtake the political and regulatory efforts of national governments. ‘We are beginning one of history’s great transitions – the transition to a new economic foundation for the 21st century  and beyond. I would ask the UN to convene a climate summit, like Copenhagen, but for cities, for states, for provinces and for regions. And I would be more than happy to host such a summit in California. People like coming to California.’

Having delivered his serious message, the ‘governator’ did not disappoint his fans. ‘Thank you very much – and I’ll be back ...’

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