California leads "subnational" summit climate push

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Regional and state governments despairing of global action to counter climate change banded together on Tuesday at a summit in California, where a challenge to its climate law was just defeated.

Solar panels sit on the roof of SunPower Corporation in Richmond, California March 18, 2010. REUTERS/Kim White

The so-called R20 coalition of dozens of regional and provincial governments, observer nations and advocacy groups aim to use their joint economic heft to create industries and to make “subnational” deals to create low-carbon projects.

Delegates from nearly 200 nations meet in Cancun, Mexico, in December attempting to hammer out the outline of the next global climate change treaty. Hopes for a breakthrough are low after last year’s failure to reach a deal in Copenhagen, Denmark, but California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger optimistically saw regions forging ahead anyway.

“The green movement is going full steam ahead without an international agreement,” Schwarzenegger told the Governors’ Global Climate Summit, with representatives from states and other “subnational” regions of countries including China, the United States, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

Schwarzenegger, facing term limits, will leave office next year, but Governor-elect Jerry Brown campaigned forcefully on continuing California’s green economy push.


Californians in November soundly rejected a ballot proposition to suspend its climate change law, in what Schwarzenegger saw as a textbook example of how California -- and other local governments -- could change the world.

“The power and influence we have in the rest of the world is like a whole continent,” he said of California, the biggest U.S. state in terms of population and economy.

R20 members signed a founding charter on Tuesday, although not all summit attendees joined the group, which was dominated by states, provinces and regions of North America, Europe, Mexico, Africa, and non-profit groups.

By agreeing on standards in areas like advanced street lighting, they could create markets on their own terms, for example by requiring some element of local production, R20 adviser Terry Tamminen said.

California also signed a memorandum of understanding to include credits for saving the tropical forests of Brazil’s Acre state and Mexico’s Chiapas state in its carbon trading market, due to open in 2012.

If the agreement is translated into policy it would be the first carbon market move into rainforest “offsets,” credits for cutting carbon dioxide emissions, which are seen as important for climate change but very complex to manage.

Globally the rainforest credits are known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD.

Outgoing Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm also said that California’s leadership on vehicle mileage standards had been taken up by U.S. states, and the rules eventually became national standards and followed in Canada, as well.

But national governments ultimately hold the money and the power -- and the best ‘subnational’ leaders can do is spur their federal governments forward, she said.

“Without federal energy policy, these are states who are flailing,” Granholm said in an interview, ascribing part of Michigan’s success attracting auto battery makers to its bundling of state incentives with federal stimulus money.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking to the conference by satellite, agreed. He said there would be no binding agreement in Cancun and that states and nations could tempt skeptics into the fold.

“When other countries see the success of green growth and the green economy, even the laggards are going to say ‘Hold on a second, I want a piece of this,’” he said.

“But there are some difficult decisions that we have to take. In the end we’ve got to end up with an agreement that the world opts into, and that means the laggard countries as well.”

Editing by Tim Gardner, Gabe Madway and Eric Walsh