California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was in Copenhagen today, along with the governor of the Brazilian state of São Paulo, José Serra, to propose the UN hold a sub-national climate conference. "I would ask the UN to convene a climate summit, like Copenhagen, but for cities, for states, for provinces and for regions," Schwarzenegger told the crowded auditorium at COP15. "The world's national governments cannot make the progress that is needed on global climate change alone." Wait. They might need us?Schwarzenegger, whose state is the seventh largest economy in the world, referenced the activism of the sixties and its success in advancing the rights of minorities and women and suggested that a similar approach to reducing carbon emissions may be more effective than international conferences like COP15, according to a report from the AFP.
History tells us movements began with the people, not with government. And then, when they become powerful enough, government responds. California has shown that a sub-national government can lead the way to national change and I urge all of the world leaders here in Copenhagen to liberate the power beneath the national level to help us create an environment we can proudly pass down to our children, grandchildren and beyond.
California currently gets 27 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and that share would go up to 45 percent by 2020, according the governor, regardless of the outcome this week. "We are proceeding with green tech no matter what happens in Washington or Copenhagen," he said, citing green innovation and entrepreneurs as keys to his state's success.
The Brazilian governor is no stranger to tackling carbon emissions on a sub-national level either. José Serra, whose state is home to São Paulo, has managed to reduce the carbon footprint of the nation's largest city to a mere quarter of the country's average--despite producing a third of Brazil's GDP and being home to 40 percent of its industry.
Deforestation is under control because of enforcement of land use policies. Sub-national initiatives, whether regional or local, are crucial to the advancement of the environmental cause and to a fast conclusion to a global climate agreement.
As COP15 wraps up and the world awaits to see what sort of agreement will be reached on the international stage, the energy spent on hand-wringing could be better directed. In the end, COP15 may be something of a distraction from the simple truths outlined by Schwarzenegger and Serra: combating climate change needs to start on a regional, local, community, and individual level. Perhaps important, powerful folks meeting to discuss an important, powerful problem, won't necessarily deliver an important or powerful solution. It may be up to us.