By Simon Bradley
The war against climate change must become “hipper” to interest more people, says former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Hollywood action hero was in Geneva this week in his latest role as green activist to inaugurate his R20 non-profit environmental group, which has established a headquarters at Versoix, on the city outskirts.
During his three-day visit Schwarzenegger broke Geneva University audience records at a public conference on his latest “crusade” – climate change and the economy.
On Wednesday night 2,000 people packed into the main university auditorium and two separate conference rooms were opened especially to broadcast the Governator’s live performance.
“I won’t stop until we’ve spread our green revolution everywhere,” he told the audience.
Schwarzenegger served as governor of California from 2003 until 2011, during which time he became steadily more committed to green policies. In 2006, California became the first US state to place a cap on greenhouse gases.
The 64-year-old hammered home his message about better communication on climate change and greenhouse gases.
“We have to make the environment movement sexier, more attractive and hipper so everyone takes part,” he said. “And we have to banish the word ‘impossible’ from our vocabulary.”
Communication should be like a “four-legged stool” and not the current one-legged version based solely on climate change, said Schwarzenegger.
The second leg should be about jobs, as “the green economy is a growing economy”, and the third and fourth must focus on national security and health.
“Clean economies can save millions of lives,” he pointed out.
Citing Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi in his speech, he said citizens could not hang around waiting for governments to seal an international climate change accord.
“There are countries, states, cities and people who think they can’t create a green energy future without an international agreement. I’m on a crusade to change that,” he declared.
Schwarzenegger’s R20 brings together a diverse alliance of 30 city and regional governments and partners “to develop, finance, implement, evaluate and replicate low-carbon and climate-resilient projects on a worldwide scale”. The long-term objective is to increase that to 200 regions with green investments worth $100 billion by 2017.
Members include regions in Mexico, Nigeria, India, Brazil, South Korea, California, British Columbia, and the Parisian Ile-de-France area.
Launched in December 2009, the public-private group, which held its first general meetings in Geneva this week, is all about action, said Schwarzenegger.
“Our task is a daunting one which is growing exponentially. But there are fantastic things happening all over the world. It’s about moving ahead on the subnational level instead of waiting on the sidelines,” he added.
Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), agreed that regions had a “key role to play” in climate change efforts.
“No country can do it alone. Everyone needs to cooperate with everyone else,“ he said. “This is why I’m happy with the R20 initiative.”
One of the R20’s aims is to spread knowledge of the benefits of clean energy.
“We will make sure the people of Delhi to know about the great things being done here in Switzerland and we want to help provinces in Morocco learn about technologies from California,” said the former governor.
A number of projects are underway, such as more efficient public lighting, and a “cool roofs” initiative – the installation of white roofs, which reflect the sun and keep houses cool.
Martin Beniston, head of the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Geneva University, said the R20 was a “key example of actions in favour of the environment that open up opportunities for local and national economies”.
The R20 is also behind the ‘Sustainia’ collaborative project, a virtual model of the world that could be created if ready and available solutions are implemented to existing cities, homes, energy systems and transport.
‘Sustainia’ will be presented to world leaders in June at the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil, alongside “Sustainia100”, a catalogue of 100 ideal solutions and technologies.
“Sustainia is all about showing how easily the future could be different from, and better than, today. It’s based on facts: we have clean technologies right now, and science tells us that using them would bring all kinds of benefits,” Sam Smith, global leader of WWF’s Climate and Energy Initiative, told swissinfo.ch.
Versoix was chosen as the R20 headquarters due to the concentration of United Nations specialist environmental agencies, as well as NGOs like the WWF, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the World Economic Forum, as well as private banks.
Canton Geneva will assume the R20’s rental costs for the first two years under a policy of encouraging NGOs to establish themselves in the region. The group plans to open offices in China and Rio de Janeiro.
Franz Perrez, head of international affairs at the Federal Environment Office, said he was delighted Schwarzenegger had chosen Geneva.
“It has the potential to play an important role, particularly in resource efficiency which is crucial to achieving climate change goals,” he told swissinfo.ch. “This is a signal that reflects the fact that Geneva has become a critical hub for environmental issues.”
He agreed that there was a “desperate need” for bottom-up approaches, but added that looking at those alone would not be sufficient.