In the year since an attempt for a global climate-change treaty failed, California has been trying a different strategy to reduce greenhouse gases worldwide.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing state and regional governments around the globe to act, saying the effort must be led locally in the absence of national and international momentum.
Starting today, the outgoing Republican governor hosts his third and final California climate summit, at the University of California, Davis. Schwarzenegger is hoping states and provinces from more than 20 countries will launch a program that is intended to secure financing for carbon-cutting projects in both industrialized and developing nations.
"We want the national governments to continue on in the negotiations and move forward," Schwarzenegger said. "But I think that all great movements start on the grassroots level, so I think that we start on the local level, the state level and move up and put the pressure on national governments to get the job done."
Last December, countries participating in the United Nations climate talks in Denmark failed to agree on an international treaty that would have required them to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
The pact that is expected to be signed Tuesday in California comes two weeks before the start of a U.N climate summit in Mexico. Organizers of that event hope to reach a global finance agreement giving poor countries the money to cope with the effects of rising temperatures and become more energy efficient.
But the talks leading up to that meeting already have divided rich and developing nations over the issue of intellectual property rights. That doesn't bode well for the binding cuts in greenhouse gases that many scientists say countries will need to make to effectively combat global warming.
With Republicans poised to take control of the House of Representatives, President Barack Obama has abandoned legislation that would cap emissions in the U.S. through a carbon market. Republicans consider it a tax on business.
Instead, the Obama administration intends to bypass Congress and regulate greenhouse gases directly through federal agencies.
The idea that California, other states and local leaders from provinces in Morocco and France are pushing ahead with their own nonprofit financing program gives some in the environmental community hope.
"There's huge promise for it. It could create the motivation and reality that climate solutions are real," said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "States and provinces and cities are going to take these actions, and people in those communities are going to say, 'Hey, that wasn't so bad. Let's see the next steps.'"
The key mission of the organization, called R20 and incorporated in Geneva, Switzerland, is to be a "green investment program," said Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. It is intended to match investors from the World Bank and private corporations with local governments in developing and industrialized countries to accelerate alternative-energy projects.
Government leaders from more than 20 countries, private corporations, non-governmental organizations and academia are expected to join R20, while the U.S. State Department and others will sign as observers. The U.N.'s climate chief, Christiana Figueres, also has sent a letter of support.
Democratic Govs. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Chris Gregoire of Washington are co-sponsors of the summit. All except Gregoire are leaving office after this year. Prince Charles and British Prime Minister David Cameron are scheduled to address the conference via video.
While local and regional collaboration is applauded by scientists and environmental advocates, it's uncertain whether such a piecemeal approach can address the continued rise of greenhouse gases and temperatures already being felt around the world.
"You can't solve this challenge with just 20 provinces or states taking action. We need 20, 50 countries taking action," said Schmidt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Ultimately we need an international agreement that moves all countries forward."