THE BLOG

COP 15: Cities, States, Grassroots Transform Nopenhagen to Hopenhagen

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Nancy Skinner Co-founder, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability

I traveled to Copenhagen, where nations of the world met to tackle the single greatest challenge of our time. It is the 15th time world leaders have convened as the 'Conference of the Parties' (COP), parties referring to each of the 192 nations that, under the auspices of the United Nations, agreed to work together to address climate change.

This is the 11th international negotiation I've attended. For the first time every major emitting country -- including the United States, China, India and Australia -- came to the table with commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. I'm frustrated it has taken 15 COPs to get to this point, while Pacific Island nations lose habitable land due to sea level rise and atmospheric concentration of CO2 now exceeds 350 parts per million, but it is still a huge breakthrough.

Press reports will be more pessimistic, focusing on how COP 15 ended without legally binding emission reduction goals. True and a legitimate side of the story, but it's a story that doesn't capture the tremendous movement already underway.

This is a movement begun at the grassroots level: by states, cities, provinces, non profit groups, and businesses, a movement that is gaining momentum, taking substantive action, and beginning to show some impressive results.

Mayors from New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Johannesburg and 100 other major cities --all of which have adopted ambitious emissions reduction targets-- also gathered in Copenhagen. What the cities have accomplished makes the national government commitments seem paltry in comparison.

My attendance is with a delegation of over 40 officials from states and Canadian provinces. Each of us represent governments that are also implementing climate action plans. We have come to COP15 to make it clear that subnational governments are not sitting idle.

ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability is an organizer of the city delegation. I speak to Harvey Ruvin, an official from Miami Dade County. He informs me that ICLEI recently documented climate protection commitments from over three thousand local governments from around the world.

At a state leader event organized by the Center for Climate Strategies I learn that 32 US states have adopted or are actively developing climate action plans. Tom Peterson, President of the Center, presents data on 23 climate policy actions underway in these states. Fully implemented the state actions would reduce US emissions by between 16% (low estimate) to 25% (aggressive implementation) below 1990 levels, reductions that surpass the targets proposed in the current bills being debated by Congress.

From my point of view the accomplishments by the grassroots NGOs and our subnational governments will help turn the post mortem on COP 15 from Nopenhagen to Hopenhagen. I am particularly proud that California is one that is truly leading the way.

On Tuesday I sat in the COP 15 conference center as our governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, delivered a speech highlighting California's leadership.

Right now we are implementing Assembly Bill 32, authored by my good friend Fran Pavley, which requires a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020.

We have also passed the world's first Low Carbon Fuel Standard and tailpipe emissions standards, which the Obama Administration has now adopted.

Governor Schwarzenegger describes partnerships California is forming with other states, provinces and cities in America, Canada, China, Mexico and Europe. And how California is working with the U.N. to assist developing nations, especially in Africa.

California's leadership is not just great environmentally. It is giving our state a tremendous competitive edge in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

A report released earlier this month shows that over the last decade, green jobs in California surged 36 percent; more than triple the rate of our total job growth. And these are good-paying jobs in energy efficiency, clean technology and renewable fuels.

Before leaving I toured a cluster of green business start-ups in my home city, Berkeley. Seeo Inc, developing a new generation of batteries for electric vehicles, is typical of the companies I'm meeting. For the last three years Seeo has hired additional employees and experienced an increase in venture capitol investment.

California has never been so well poised to be at the competitive edge of the low carbon economy. I am proud that California is leading the way toward a cleaner and more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren. Even in these difficult times, we will continue to push ahead, because we know our innovative green policies are the key to accelerating our economic recovery.

CA State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner chairs the Assembly Natural Resources Committee overseing implementation of California's Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32. Ms. Skinner is a founder of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and former US Director of The Climate Group. View her blog from Copenhagen at nancyskinner.blogspot.com/2009_12_01_archive.html

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