Manoel Silva de Cunha, leader of a group of 200,000 Brazilian forest-dwellers, was blunt about why he traveled this week from the Amazon to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Global Climate Summit.
The rubber tappers, nut gatherers and fishermen who live off tropical forests want money from American corporations to help them preserve the trees that cool the planet.
“These companies have polluted a lot,” he said. “They have to make up for it.”
Many of the 1,200 delegates who crowded into Century City’s Hyatt Regency this week came with similar hopes: to cash in on California’s expertise, its technology and the multimillion-dollar carbon trading market it plans to launch in 2012.
While Congress dithers over national climate legislation, and negotiators wrangle over a global treaty, governors, premiers and environmental officials from 70 states and provinces around the world gathered, as Schwarzenegger put it, for “action, action, action.”
This year’s gabfest is double the size of California’s first climate summit last year and, for the first time, is co-sponsored by the United Nations.
Whatever greenhouse gas targets are ultimately adopted by national governments, it will be up to localities to “protect your forests from fire, your water supplies from contamination and your coastlines from erosion,” Olav Kjorven, a U.N. assistant secretary general, told the group.
California, he added, has “blazed a path for other regional governments around the world to follow.”
Some 20% of planet-heating emissions result from the burning of tropical forests and their conversion to soybean fields and cattle ranches.
But forests, which are complex to regulate, were not part of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the global treaty that is to be revised in Copenhagen in December. Negotiators are debating whether wealthy nations will compensate such countries as Brazil and Indonesia to preserve trees, which store vast amounts of carbon.
Several dozen local officials and environmental groups from forest-rich nations gathered in Los Angeles for two days before this week’s summit to discuss rules, similar to those recently adopted in California, to measure the carbon in their forests and provide credits to companies willing to pay for offsetting industrial emissions.
A country, or even a province, that develops trustworthy regulations and enforcement could be eligible to tap into California’s planned cap-and-trade program or a broader system proposed for seven Western states and four Canadian provinces. Such a carbon trading system could funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to such communities as Brazilian rubber tappers, Indonesian island dwellers and Tanzanian villagers.
On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger officials signed an agreement with representatives of Mexican states to explore whether California’s carbon rules could be adapted to preserve Sierra Madre forests, which harbor monarch butterflies.
Today, California officials are expected to finalize a partnership with the Chinese province of Jiangsu to share energy technology.
Why collaborate when companies from both nations are competing furiously over green technology? “California is the most energy-efficient state in the nation,” said Secretary Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. “We want to sell our technology to them.”
California officials are also exploring common ground with the Chinese to limit cement plant emissions in both countries, Adams said. California cement executives complain that if the state cracks down on their plants, they will have to import most of their cement from China, where controls are less stringent.
No public money was spent on the summit, according to administration officials. They refused to reveal the total cost of the event or confirm news reports that corporations paid between $100,000 and $250,000 to sponsor the gathering.
On the podium, Schwarzenegger thanked the Aga Khan, a philanthropist who focuses on development projects in the Middle East and Africa, as “one of the main sponsors.” Panels including “The Evolution of Offsets” to “Opportunities for Industry in a Carbon Constrained World” featured video screens saying they were “graciously sponsored” by Shell Oil and other companies, many of which have a financial stake in proposed climate regulations.