Saving the planet over lunch

Reaching a climate agreement among the 190 countries expected at the UN talks in Copenhagen in December remains a daunting task. The political and economic differences between industrialized and developing nations may prove intractable.

But in Los Angeles last week, three climate policy stars – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chair Rajendra Pachauri – took a stab at framing a deal during a lunchtime discussion at the Governors’ Global Climate Summit.

In a relaxed give-and-take moderated by Ann Compton of ABC News, the three leaders shared their views on what it would take to find consensus in Copenhagen. Blair, who has devoted significant time to climate issues since leaving government, highlighted four requirements for the UN talks to succeed:

* Interim greenhouse gas targets, i.e., specific emission goals for 2020, not just long-term goals for 2050.
* Recognition that practical solutions exist: energy efficiency, reduced deforestation, and renewable energy are responses to global warming that can be adopted now.
* Price on carbon: this signal is essential to drive millions of business decisions towards a low-carbon economy.
* Financing mechanisms to help developing countries embrace new technologies as they raise the standard of living of their growing populations.

Pachauri, who won the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC in 2007, painted a surprisingly optimistic perspective on what could be accomplished in Copenhagen. He cited recent statements by Chinese President Hu Jintao and new renewable energy investments by the Indian government as indications that major GHG emitters in the developing world were now serious about addressing global warming. Pachauri said it was critical (and achievable) for a UN agreement to put us on a path for global GHG emissions to peak by 2015.

Gov. Schwarzenegger is a credible spokesman for strong state and regional climate policies. Under his leadership, California has passed AB 32, a law that will reduce the state’s GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. During the lunchtime chat with Blair and Pachauri, Schwarzenegger reported on the state’s progress and its role in organizing the Western Climate Initiative, which seeks to cut emissions in seven states and four Canadian provinces. The governor observed that whatever climate agreement national leaders may reach in Copenhagen, state and provincial governments around the world will be charged with implementing it. To reinforce this point, Schwarzenegger will lead a delegation of state and provincial leaders to join the UN talks.

Schwarzenegger, Blair, and Pachauri may not have worked out all the details of a climate deal. But with an appreciative audience enjoying their thoughtful dialogue, these three leaders certainly made a good start.

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  1. Gilbert Jeppsen - February 17, 2010

    Bush implied that the only reason to have a nuclear arsenal would be to take over the world.. irronic, isn’t it?

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