Paris COP21: A Real Turning Point

As the former Secretary of the California EPA, and in my current role as the President of Seventh Generation Advisors and Strategic Advisor to the R20 Regions of Climate Action, I have long been an advocate for the power of action at the state and local level in the fight to curb climate change. California's leadership set the gold standard and I wanted to help inspire other regions to take similar actions, so for the last several years I have worked alongside the R20, a non-profit launched by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other global leaders to continue work at the regional level and facilitate and deploy low-carbon projects worldwide.

It is against this backdrop that I attended the COP21 conference in Paris. As a representative for sub-national action our goals were two-fold - 1) To illustrate that sub-national action is real, and if scaled up it could mean significant reductions in emissions at the national level and 2) To inform key policy makers, financial actors, and other stakeholders about the current and future trends taking place in the climate finance efforts, and to set forth new strategies and investment vehicles for rapid scale-up and expansion of climate finance. To support these messages we participated in several high-level events and one-on-one meetings and released two reports "Scaling Up: From Local to Global Climate Action" and "Climate Finance: A Status Report and Action Plan."

The report "Scaling Up: From Local to Global Climate Action" confirms that sub-national action on climate change is in many ways surpassing national efforts in scope and ambition. The report uses case studies from nine regions around the world to highlight initiatives that, if adopted nationally, would contribute significantly to, or even surpass, country-level mitigation goals. The highlighted initiatives have the potential to raise national ambition; spur additional mitigation, adaptation, and climate financing; and inject an emphasis on solutions-directed efforts into the public dialogue on climate change. From California to Rajasthan, India, the case studies reveal a range of local partnerships that exhibit strong climate leadership.

"Climate Finance: A Status Report and Action Plan" provides tangible, concrete examples of how to expedite the transition to a low-carbon economy based on proven technologies and projects all over the world, such as those described in "Scaling Up". Drafted at the request of French President Francois Hollande, who identified climate finance as critical to the negotiations at COP21, the report offers a comprehensive road map to effectively tackle climate finance challenges. The report gives examples of supportive governments in various regions around the world (at the sub-national and national level); mature low-carbon technologies; and substantial amounts of capital, but also points out that intermediaries are needed to align interests and to develop projects. The Report concludes by proposing concrete solutions moving forward and will also serve as the basis for implementation of climate finance solutions post COP21.

These reports and the messages that we were able to deliver at COP21 were embraced and significantly elevated. Governor Schwarzenegger participated in a number of COP21 events to draw attention to these two papers and to continue his longstanding commitment in addressing climate change and protecting the environment. Schwarzenegger highlighted the important role that sub-national leadership is providing in reducing carbon emissions and stressed the need to accelerate the action being created at the local level.

Schwarzenegger gave a keynote speech to the Inter-Parliamentary Union where he formally announced the reports and presented copies to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Minister Fabius fully agreed that public policies and funds could unleash much larger private funding from a wide variety of finance institutions and private investors. Schwarzenegger also spoke to the students and faculty of Sciences Po University about the long-term nature of the climate change challenge and the important role future generations of leaders will play in addressing it.

Finally - and most critical - Schwarzenegger delivered remarks to the official UN negotiating body that was working formally to integrate sub-national actions into the UNFCCC negotiations for the first time in history. He highlighted how much progress sub-nationals have made to support the reasoning for this new officially sanctioned approach.

We now see that the outcome of COP21 is profound. For the first time in history almost 200 countries agreed on a goal to keep global temperature increase "well below" 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C. There is still much to accomplish and now the real work begins, but this consensus is truly a game-changer for our efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions and expedite the transition to a clean, green economy.