There’s hope for real change on global climate

Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks on climate change at the United Nations in 2007. He will be attending the Paris summit this week.
Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks on climate change at the United Nations in 2007. He will be attending the Paris summit this week. Associated Press file

As leaders from more than 190 nations meet at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, the stakes have never been greater.

Their goal is to reach an agreement to reduce carbon emissions and limit the average global surface temperature increase to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the pre-industrial levels, enough to help us avoid the most catastrophic impacts to human health caused by climate change.

Achieving this goal would also avoid the trillions of dollars in costs to our economy and infrastructure due to global warming – predictions that might sound like science fiction but are as serious and real as it gets.

There is reason to be hopeful about this summit because for the first time, the U.N. is taking note of the significant actions by cities, provinces and states and invited their leaders to participate.

Also attending are many of the world’s leading and innovative businesses, nonprofits, banks and academics – a remarkable coalition essential to the innovation needed to transition to a clean, sustainable future.

We are proud to be part of the California delegation at the summit. The world continues to see California as a living laboratory for smart public policies that significantly reduce greenhouse gases and attract investment.

California is also proving that policy can trump politics. Both Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and his Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be participating. Having worked in the Schwarzenegger administration and been involved in the million solar roof initiative, low carbon transportation fuel standard and the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, we know how forces that try to stop environmental policies by using fear and ignoring science can be overcome with facts, courage and perseverance.

On behalf of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and R20 Regions of Climate Action group, we will present research produced in collaboration with Yale University that shows the big impact that sub-national policies can have on climate change goals. We will also be announcing an action plan for accelerating investment in green technologies and will collaborate with Paris’s leading public policy school, Sciences Po University. Schwarzenegger will speak to Sciences Po students about their role in the environmental movement and encourage these future leaders to learn from the mistakes of the past.

As California continues to tackle epic wildfires and prolonged droughts, we are reminded that climate change affects us all directly and is not an abstract idea. Reducing carbon emissions is not merely about saving the polar bear on the floating ice in the Arctic, but about saving the 7 million people worldwide who die each year from pollution.

The leaders gathering for the Paris summit know this and are looking to hopeful examples like those in California to build sustainable economies in the 21st century and beyond.

Bonnie Reiss is global director of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and can be contacted at Terry Tamminen is an adviser to the founding chairman of R20 and can be contacted at