Governor Schwarzenegger, Akon, and Mayor Faulconer discuss Climate Change Investments

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, with the support of Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President Frank Bainimarama, convened a Talanoa Dialogue on Oct. 25 at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator to explore opportunities and best practices for climate-smart investments at the city and sub-national level that could terminate the root causes of climate change.

It was one of a series of Talanoa Dialogues held around the world this year at the request of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, with key takeaways from each to be presented to political leaders at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in December.

Bainimarama enlisted the participation of Schwarzenegger, the Governor Downey Professor of State and Global Policy at USC, whose leadership on issues of energy and the environment began as Governor of California and continues with the USC Schwarzenegger Institute.

Although he was unable to attend in person due to commitments in Fiji, Bainimarama delivered welcoming remarks via a video message. He thanked Schwarzenegger for his climate leadership and said that, if the world is to have any chance of achieving the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial age, then sub-national players will need to play a central role in this effort.

The event was held in the spirit of talanoa, which is a Pacific tradition of telling stories to build consensus and make decisions for the collective good. Fiji’s Ambassador to the United States, Solo Mara, who represented the COP23 Presidency at the event, explained that the talanoa gives participants an opportunity to hear stories and perspectives that they wouldn’t necessarily hear otherwise and, in the process, be inspired by insights they may not have previously considered.

This talanoa brought together key actors and thought leaders, including representatives from business, government, philanthropy and academia to share their stories.

First to tell his story was Akon, a Grammy-nominated singer who has devoted his energies to tackling climate change and empowering people across Africa.

“When I would go back to Africa and visit my grandma, there would be no electricity and no clean, running water,” Akon said. “I vowed to myself that I would come back and do something about that. The need for electricity was so vast that we ended up being in 21 countries in three years.”

Schwarzenegger told the story of pushing to pass California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, then being denied a federal waiver to allow the state to limit greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles on the dubious grounds that greenhouse gases weren’t pollutants. The state took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases are air pollutants under the 1970 Clean Air Act.

“When the federal government fell behind, California stepped up to the plate,” Schwarzenegger said. “We showed leadership and saw firsthand the kind of great work that can be done at the sub-national level, not just in the states and provinces, but also at the city level.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer made the first public announcement of a new community choice aggregation initiative to supply greener and cleaner energy to San Diego, which will help the city reach its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

As the U.S. federal government once again falls behind on climate action, Schwarzenegger noted the power of this announcement and said that San Diego can be a model for cities across the country as sub-national governments pick up the slack for federal failures.

“I always tell people when giving speeches overseas not to worry about President Trump and his lack of knowledge and interest in this subject,” Schwarzenegger said. “The key is that the rest of United States thinks differently, and we are marching in the right direction. You see progress all the time because everyone is chipping in and working together – from the private, public and philanthropic sectors – and there’s a great energy in this effort.”

Schwarzenegger stressed the importance of getting the message of climate change right – a lesson he learned in California. He explained that legislative efforts in the state didn’t gain momentum until they began focusing on the immediate health impacts of carbon pollution.

“It doesn’t excite people when we talk about the dangers pollution creates 20 years from now,” Schwarzenegger said. “No one is worried about 20 years from now. That’s why it’s more important to talk about what’s going on today when we have pollution, and how 7 million people die every year because of pollution.”

Schwarzenegger built upon the leadership he showed on climate action in California by co-founding R20, a global nonprofit of sub-national governments and regional leaders working together to move toward a green energy future.

Christophe Nuttall, executive director for R20, explained that the organization has set out to connect policymakers at the local level with technology holders and financing in order to develop clean energy projects. Recognizing a funding gap for infrastructure projects of more than $5 million and less than $100 million – considered too large for sub-nationals and NGOs to finance, too small for institutional investors and too risky for private investors – R20 teamed up with BlueOrchard Finance, a leading global impact investment manager headquartered in Switzerland, to create the Sub-national Climate Fund Africa.

Patrick Scheurle, CEO of BlueOrchard, noted that the $350 million investment fund – backed by financing from philanthropists, foundations, governments, development finance institutions and private investors – will go live next year and start investing in 600 renewable energy, energy efficiency and waste management projects at the sub-national level.

“This fund will not only invest $350 million, it will also unlock billions of co-investment capital,” Scheurle said. “It's scalable, it's replicable, and we will replicate it for all the developing countries in the world.”

Terry Tamminen was the man Schwarzenegger most depended on during California’s movement into being a worldwide leader in sustainable policies. Tamminen said that over his many years of public service, appointed by Schwarzenegger as Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 and as Cabinet Secretary in 2004, as co-founder of R20 and now as CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, financing has always been the missing link between policy and technology for sustainable solutions.

Tamminen mentioned two projects the DiCaprio Foundation is working on in an attempt to fill that financing void. On is with the Fijian government to put together a small trust fund that allows rural villages on remote islands in Fiji to replace their diesel generators with solar battery-powered microgrids. Instead of paying for diesel fuel, they put that money toward repaying for the solar battery power generator, and when it’s paid off they have free energy and the money can be loaned to the next village, so that money can finance projects in perpetuity.

The second project, in partnership with R20, is loaning money to help 13 cities in Brazil, including Rio de Janeiro, replace their street lights with LEDs that will have 70 percent energy savings. That savings will pay back for the street lights, and that money can be put toward more of the 5,600 cities in Brazil.

“There’s ways by working with sub-national governments, national governments and technology providers, if we’re all properly motivated and understand what’s at stake, that we can do these projects that are not one-time financing but gifts that will keep on giving,” Tamminen said.

Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t the only one in his family leading the fight against climate change. His cousin, Christian Schwarzenegger, is a leading researcher at the University of Zurich. Disheartened that his university’s professors of banking and finance did not have climate change on their agenda, Christian Schwarzenegger started the Sustainable Finance Institute. Now the University of Zurich is joining with the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and R20 to create the Green Economy Finance Initiative aiming to combine green finance initiatives in the U.S. and Switzerland together with academic research.

“We’ll provide the standardized methodologies and regulatory frameworks that investors need to evaluate whether something is good or bad for this movement,” Christian Schwarzenegger said. “We’re going to work with the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and R20 to combine this scientific approach to give best practices on a scientific basis to make a difference and go forward, because we have to act now.”

Climate Policy Initiative Director Barbara Buchner, who moderated the dialogue, concluded by summarizing overarching themes she heard at the talanoa. She said that more needs to be done to foster collaboration between public and private actors, and across international, national and sub-national borders. Only then can best practices and latest innovations be shared to help maximize the impact of every investment. The more that successful initiatives and projects in one jurisdiction can be replicated and financed elsewhere, the quicker the world can reach the necessary scale of action and investment.

The talanoa closed with inspiring words from Governor Schwarzenegger, who said that every person has the power to fight for a better world and make a positive impact.

“So many people say that this challenge is impossible,” Schwarzenegger said. “I learned a long time ago that you never take 'no' for an answer. I believe in what Nelson Mandela said, that everything is impossible until someone does it. We have to show that it can be done. We have to go out and fight and, if we fight, we can make a difference.”