Arnold’s climate summit: a final hot-air fest?


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It was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s third and final ‘Global Climate Summit,’ but the annual gabfest went out with more of a whimper than a bang.

For three years, the governor has used his star power to attract other ‘sub-national’ leaders of international provinces and states to California, each time ending his conferences with a flurry of ‘memorandums of agreement’ to cooperate to combat climate change.


And now, as Schwarzenegger prepares to leave office, there is little to show for the effort beyond more promises to ‘take action’, this time in an organization he has dubbed ‘Regions of Climate Action’, or R-20.

There seemed to be about 15 regional leaders on the stage of a half-empty UC Davis auditorium Tuesday, but it was hard to tell how many governments were actually signing on to Schwarzenegger’s plan because the stage was also crowded with corporate executives, environmental activists and government employees in an effort to drum up excitement.

Schwarzenegger had first announced the R-20 in a high-profile news conference at the Copenhagen climate conference in December. But 11 months later, the effort has garnered promises of fewer than 30 states or provinces worldwide to join--and no concrete projects organized as of yet. Only one other U.S. governor, outgoing Democrat Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, was present for the signing ceremony; no provincial leader from China, the world’s largest carbon-emitter, agreed to join the effort.

Those present included officials from Nigeria, Morocco, Korea, France, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil and the Phillippines.

The failure to achieve an international climate pact in Copenhagen last year left many people discouraged, Schwarzenegger said, addressing several hundred delegates and UC Davis students. But now, he added, “The sub-nationals should do their work.... The green revolution is moving forward full speed ahead without the international agreement.” Schwarzenegger officials had predicted that about 100 government leaders would sign the pact. But even in the U.S. the reception has been tepid. Besides Doyle, only the governors of Michigan, Oregon and Washington have said they would sign on.

Wenhang Huang, an official with China’s National Development and Reform Commission, attended the conference and said the R-20 could play “a complementary role” to international negotiations on a climate treaty, which will continue in Cancun, Mexico, next month. But before any Chinese provinces sign up for R-20, she said, “There has to be an internal dialogue.” One concern, she explained, is to keep a check on what foreign technology Chinese provinces might buy—a stance that reflects China’s desire to maintain its favorable balance of trade.


“We are at the beginning of the beginning,” said Terry Tamminen, a Los Angeles consultant and former Schwarzenegger official who is in charge of setting up R-20. “We are looking at some sample projects, like cool roofs and street lighting. We are talking to regional development banks and
for-profit investors. Let’s harness the money that’s out there.” Tamminen said his nonprofit is raising funds to hire “a couple of staffers” for a Geneva office.

Does the group offer the governor a project for his retirement? Schwarzenegger is “the founding chair,” Tamminen said. “There is a role for him after he leaves office to continue to be a strong advocate and pull in resources. But his role is not yet defined and depends on which other governors want to get involved.”

The effort to bind together states and provinces follows the model of the C-40 cities initiative, a group of representatives from large urban areas around the world, including Los Angeles, that meets yearly to tackle climate change issues. Launched in London in 2005, C-40 has been working to help cities purchase green technology in bulk, such as energy-efficient street lighting, to create a broader market and drive down prices.

Schwarzenegger’s R-20 hopes to work in a similar vein as the urban consortium, which shares information on how to inventory and reduce greenhouse gases, and how to develop energy efficient building codes, mass transit and electric vehicle charging stations.

Besides a few panels of green-leaning officials and corporate executives rehashing familiar encomiums to clean energy, much of Schwarzenegger’s two-day climate summit was taken up with gauzy films of forests, waterfalls and exotic species and promotional videos for the sponsors, including BMW and the Aga Khan Development Network. There were appearances by Deepak Chopra and Harrison Ford, lengthy valedictories commending Schwarzenegger’s leadership and a video of England’s Prince Charles discussing global harmony, the theme of his latest book.

--Margot Roosevelt

Credit: Justin Short/Office of Gov. Schwarzenegger