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Fla. plan on climate upheld as example
There is hope that Florida's fight with global warming will inspire Third World nations.
By DAVID ADAMS, Times Staff Writer
Published October 22, 2007
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joins Florida Gov. Charlie Crist at a climate change summit in July.
In the summer of 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hatched a plan.
Put simply, it involved finding a way to save the planet from global warming. Blair, one of the most outspoken world leaders on climate change, had come to California to urge Schwarzenegger to take the lead on an issue that President Bush refused to act on.
That meeting, and what came out of it, explains a remarkable turnaround in the fast-moving debate over climate change in the United States.
Prior to that July 31, 2006, meeting in Long Beach, Calif., no American state had adopted a plan to tackle global warming. A year later, 26 states have either signed or are in the process of writing climate action plans, including Florida.
In fact, with Gov. Charlie Crist leading it, Florida is emerging as a model for how populous states and developing nations deal with climate change, balancing economic growth and thegreenhouse gas emissions that scientists say cause global warming.
"It's amazing how far Florida has moved," said Chris Walker, U.S. director of the Climate Group, a British nonprofit that helped organize the 2006 meeting. "In the last six months, Florida has done what took the European Union seven years."
On that summer day last year, Schwarzenegger was considering whether to support a radical state bill to tackle climate change.
Blair spoke for the bill in global terms. He expressed his concern that major developing countries such as China and India refuse to join international efforts to reduce emissions, fearing it would stifle their booming economies.
"They just don't see the need to act before the U.S. does," Blair told Schwarzenegger, according to Terry Tamminen, the governor's climate change adviser, who witnessed the exchange.
Blair said he had tried to persuade Chinese and Indian officials to look at what American states like California were doing.
"But I can't keep on saying that if it's only California," he lamented.
Blair encouraged an eager Schwarzenegger to spread the message across the United States. The governor and Tamminen had already agreed they would try to sow seeds in other states to get around the Bush administration's failure to act.
Within weeks, Schwarzenegger had signed California's landmark Global Warming Solution Act, which imposed the first state cap on greenhouse gases in the nation, requiring that emissions be reduced 80 percent by 2050.
Then Tamminen hit the road.
Top of the list was Florida.
"The idea was to provide inspiration, leadership and support, and to put together regional trading groups to get states to cap their emissions like Europe was doing," Tamminen said.
Along the way Tamminen drew support from the British government, as well as the Climate Group, which promotes business and government leadership on climate change.
Since its formation in 2004, the Climate Group has targeted states, arguing that, contrary to Washington's fears of economic harm, emissions reduction makes good business sense.
"I see Florida as having an especially important role," Walker said. "Florida has the growth pattern of a developing country," he added, noting its population growth of 23.5 percent over the last decade. "Places like China and India can identify with that.
"The question is how do you decouple carbon emissions from economic growth," Walker said. "If Florida gets it right, it's the ultimate exemplar of where China, India and the United States could meet and agree."
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Schwarzenegger's decision to send Tamminen was key in Crist's quick adoption of climate change as one of his top policy priorities, Florida officials say.
"The DNA is spreading," Tamminen said.
In July this year, Crist hosted his own climate change summit in Miami. He used the occasion to sign a raft of executive orders modeled on California's approach, including emissions reduction and increased use of renewable fuels.
Crist also recognized Blair's leadership, agreeing to sign a climate change partnership with Britain. Crist heads to Brazil in early November on a trade mission where biofuels will be a big focus, and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink will be in London for a fact-finding mission on the financial risks of climate change.
British officials continue to be impressed by Crist's leadership and his contribution to Blair's effort in China and India.
"As they China and India look at the map and see more and more states moving, I think they will get the impression that there is a sense of inevitability to it," said John Ashton, special representative on climate change for the British foreign ministry.
Blair stepped down this summer, but not before thanking Schwarzenegger for helping him spread his climate change message. On Blair's final day in office, the "Emissions Terminator" was the departing prime minister's last official foreign visitor to No. 10 Downing St.
The strategy was working, Blair told him. "It has had a positive effect with people in the countries I talk to," Blair said. "They are now beginning to see the U.S. is on the march."