SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Schwarzenegger is known the world over for being an action-movie star, but he's trying a new role today that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: international environmental leader.
Schwarzenegger will address the United Nations at a "high-level event" on global climate change in New York, an appearance believed to be a first for a governor of any U.S. state.
Environmentalists said Schwarzenegger could be seen as upstaging President Bush because the United Nations is embracing the governor as a U.S. leader on global warming while international leaders have looked askance at the Bush administration.
The governor will appear at the invitation of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Kimoon, who envisions the daylong conference as a precursor to December talks to form a new greenhouse gas reduction treaty that sets mandatory limits after the Kyoto Protocol runs its course in 2012. An estimated 70 heads of state or government are expected to attend, according to the United Nations.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Modesto Bee
Bush has opposed and the United States never has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 deal requiring 35 industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But separate from the U.N. meeting, Bush has called for a two-day summit this week in Washington on climate change that could lead to voluntary reductions in greenhouse gases.
Based on excerpts of his prepared U.N. speech, the governor will declare today that "California is leading in the U.S." He also describes the state's actions as "revolutionary, something historic and transformative."
"I think the U.N. is really yearning to meet an American leader doing something about global warming, so he'll go over really well there," said Bill Magavern, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club. "In contrast to Bush, who has frustrated the rest of the world by sticking his head in the sand."
Schwarzenegger in April told the Council on Foreign Relations that all nations should enter into a new greenhouse gas reduction pact, including holdouts such as the United States and China. The governor will give similar remarks today while adding that critics of the holdout nations should move on, according to his prepared remarks.
"The time has come to stop looking back at the Kyoto Protocol," he said. "It is time to stop looking back in blame or suspicion. The consequences of global climate change are so pressing ... it doesn't matter who was responsible for the past."
Kal Raustiala, a professor at the UCLA International Institute, said Schwarzenegger can have a major influence as someone who's recognized worldwide, despite not being a head of state.
"In a context in which the United States is viewed in most countries as either the villain in the climate change story or a lazy nonparticipant, to have the governor go and say he thinks this is a serious issue can be quite significant," Raustiala said.
Schwarzenegger agreed to speak at the U.N. conference after hosting Ban in July at a technology company in San Jose.
The governor has enjoyed yearlong publicity after signing a 2006 measure requiring California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020.
He also has signed agreements with states in the West and Northeast that commit California to cooperating on greenhouse gas reductions and developing a cross-state carbon credit trading system. He has penned similar deals with governments in Canada and Australia.
Schwarzenegger has faced some criticism at home for focusing too heavily on market-based solutions that allow California companies to exceed restrictions by buying credits elsewhere. He also came under fire in late June for firing the chairman of the California Air Resources Board, which will carry out the 2006 law, but Democrats backed off when he quickly named a replacement they deemed suitable.
The governor also has faced criticism from conservatives in his own party. After Schwarzenegger told the state Republican Party that it must make greenhouse gas reduction one of its top priorities, state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, mocked his plan and questioned the science behind global warming in a later speech.
Jon Fleischman, Southern California GOP vice chairman and publisher of the conservative online blog Flash Report, said he doesn't think Schwarzenegger intends for his appearance to be an affront to Bush.
"It might create the perception he's trying to show up President Bush, but I think the reality is that Arnold Schwarzenegger is lapping up the attention locally and internationally of the global warming alarmist community," Fleischman said.
Since becoming governor in 2003, Schwarzenegger has undergone a major transformation on the environment, Magavern said.
"It's actually quite a turnabout that the father of the Hummer is now speaking to the United Nations about the need to take action to protect our common atmosphere," he observed.