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California offers to lead on climate change fight

Schwarzenegger signs a pact with heads of other states and provinces to cut greenhouse emissions.

November 20, 2008|Margot Roosevelt

California formally moved to spread its can-do global warming gospel around the world, signing a declaration Wednesday with 11 other U.S. states and provinces or states in five other countries to help them slash their greenhouse gas emissions.

Fighting climate change shouldn't just go "nation by nation," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a climate summit in Beverly Hills attended by more than 700 delegates from 19 countries. It must go "province by province. . . . We have got to do something worldwide here," he said.

California's unusual state-level diplomacy comes as President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to invigorate U.S. participation in negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which took effect in 2005 -- and which the Bush administration declined to join.

Talks on a new climate treaty resume in Poland next month, and final agreement is expected to be signed in Copenhagen in December 2009. But success is far from assured as industrial nations, which have caused much of the world's global warming, battle with fast-growing developing nations such as China to determine who should cut emissions.

Regional leaders signing Wednesday's declaration said they would develop strategies for high-polluting industries in an effort to influence the talks. The signers included 12 U.S. governors and state or provincial representatives from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia and India.

California has developed more technical expertise in controlling planet-heating emissions than any U.S. state in the two years since it passed a law requiring its emissions to fall by about 15% in the next 12 years. And although the federal government has stalled in adopting any economy-wide climate legislation, the Golden State has forged ahead with renewable energy standards, automobile tailpipe regulations, efficiency incentives and forest carbon protocols.

"California is a little spot on the globe, but the influence we have on the rest of the world is enormous," Schwarzenegger told the conference, touting the "green jobs" that the state would produce from solar and other clean-technology energy.

The declaration sets in motion a process for the state's Air Resources Board, one of the world's oldest and most sophisticated pollution control agencies, to share engineering and policy expertise with regions such as Brazil's Amazon states and Indonesia's forested provinces on how to measure and control greenhouse gases.

China, India, Brazil and other fast-developing nations have resisted caps on their emissions.

"The industrial countries that have been spewing out the most greenhouse gases have a higher responsibility to act," said Gov. Ana Julia de Vasconcelos Carpa of the Brazilian state of Para.

About 20% of the world's annual carbon emissions come from burning forests in Brazil, Indonesia and other tropical nations. In an international carbon market, as envisioned in California's global warming law, U.S. industries could pay to preserve tropical forest as a cheaper way to meet their own global warming targets. It is a source of income that foreign leaders are eager to tap.

Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, one of the signers of the agreement, said that his heavily forested state also would share research with the tropical nations. "We have a joint interest in how the carbon market moves forward," he said. "We want to ensure that forest lands and their facility in capturing carbon receive appropriate credit. This will be a big political fight in this country and around the world."

Tropical deforestation, which was excluded from the emissions rules in the Kyoto Protocol, is expected to be incorporated in the new treaty. But how the developing nations are compensated by wealthy nations for not burning down their forests is far from resolved.

With California and other U.S. states facing severe fiscal restraints as the economy worsens, nonprofit organizations including the Climate Group, Conservation International and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation have pledged funds to support working groups and draft position papers for states and provinces that signed Wednesday's pact.

"Everyone wishes they could just say, 'I'm going to protect my forest, so give me money,' " said Peter Seligmann, chief executive of Conservation International. "But we have to verify that any commodity is real. Now these regions are linking with California, the eighth largest economy in the world, in an effort to create a verifiable source of carbon credits. That is huge."

Roosevelt is a Times staff writer.


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