COPENHAGEN, Denmark — This week leaders from around the world gather here, in a quest for a global pact to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and tackle the single greatest challenge of our time.
I am joining them, to discuss the urgency of their efforts, the economic opportunities we can seize, and the tremendous role of subnational governments in climate-change mitigation.
Some pundits have described Copenhagen as the most important world summit since the end of the Second World War. And it has been suggested that without a binding international agreement, the fight against climate change is unwinnable.
Now, it certainly would be terrific if the world’s governments reached such an agreement. But as much as 80 percent of the necessary greenhouse-gas reductions will happen at the subnational level. So why should we focus all our faith and hope in international action?
Throughout the course of history, all great movements have been born at the grassroots level. The American independence movement, the civil-rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement were all begun by people who did not wait for others. Then they gained momentum and speed, and swept throughout our nation.
There is a lesson in this when discussing climate change. Even in the absence of national and international commitments, we must not ignore the tremendous movement that is already under way to solve our environmental and energy problems.
For example, states, provinces and cities have been busy passing their own laws and emission targets.
In California, we are implementing a law to cut our greenhouse-gas emissions 25 percent by the year 2020. We approved the world’s first Low Carbon Fuel Standard and tailpipe emissions standards, which the Obama administration has now adopted.
We have gone out and formed partnerships with other states, provinces and cities in America, Canada, China, Mexico and Europe. And right now we are working with the U.N. to assist developing countries, especially in Africa.
There is a great tectonic shift already under way that is gaining strength every day. And everyone is getting involved, from businesses and entrepreneurs who are investing billions of dollars into green technology, to ordinary citizens who are buying more energy-efficient appliances, conserving water and choosing to pursue greener lifestyles on their own.
There are so many amazing examples.
Right now a foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area is investing in efforts to help upgrade cement factories in China.
Rajendra Pachauri, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has started an initiative to replace kerosene lanterns with solar lights for 1 billion rural people.
Electric utilities are installing millions of square feet of solar panels on warehouse rooftops.
Four of the world’s largest meat producers have agreed not to buy cattle from deforested areas of the Amazon.
And this movement is about much more than just protecting the environment. It is also about seizing an incredible economic opportunity.
We can create a new economic foundation for the 21st century that is built on clean fuels, clean cars and clean energy.
Today, California leads the United States with more than 125,000 green jobs. In fact, over the last decade, green jobs in California have grown at nearly triple the rate of total job growth.
And it’s not just happening in California.
Green jobs in Idaho have jumped 126 percent; in Kansas, 51 percent; in New Mexico, 50 percent.
Texas, which produces the most wind power of any state, has enjoyed a 16 percent increase.
One hundred and fifty years ago, the Industrial Revolution changed the world and ushered in a new era of prosperity. Today, the Green Revolution can do the same.
And to make that happen, we need everyone to come together and sacrifice for the common good, including the environmental community.
Environmentalists must stop letting the perfect become the enemy of the possible. They cannot oppose coal-fired power plants and at the same time block transmission lines for solar fields and wind farms. They cannot oppose safe and controlled offshore drilling, while also opposing nuclear energy.
If we all work together — environmentalists, businesses, activists, ordinary citizens and subnational governments — we can push our nations and the world toward a clean, sustainable future. And regardless of what happens in Copenhagen, we will continue pushing ahead toward that future, because we know we must succeed.