On Monday, September 8th, the R20 Regions of Climate Action is honored to partner with the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and the California Air Resources Board to present the Global Climate Negotiations: Lessons From California symposium.

As leaders from around the world prepare to gather at UN climate conferences in New York, Lima, and Paris, California leaders are convening to review the lessons we have learned from our many years as a leader in pioneering environmental protections and addressing climate change.

Californians have always seen environmental protection for what it is: a non-partisan issue that will affect the future of our state and the world. Governors from every political background in our state have understood that at their core and we’ve benefitted from decades of leadership on this important issue.

In 1967, then-Governor Ronald Reagan created the Air Resources Board to address air pollution, and would set aside a total of 145,000 acres of land for the state park system by the end of his second term. When Governor Jerry Brown was first elected in the 1970’s, he led the push on energy efficiency and reducing use across the state, and now as Governor again is battling against short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon and methane and pursuing a clean tech economy.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32, California’s now-landmark greenhouse gas emissions regulation, into law in 2006 and led the push for greater renewable energy production with his Million Solar Roofs initiative. When he was in office, I watched first-hand as he fought back against pressure by some to pursue stronger environmental protections and address climate change directly. I was proud to serve as the Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and later as Cabinet Secretary to help design those policies and others that promote low carbon economic development.

The progress California has made since our efforts first began decades ago has been striking. One-third of California’s energy is now being produced by renewable and clean hydropower energy. We’ve even succeeded in growing our state’s GDP, while decreasing the carbon intensity of our economy, meaning that California’s growth is no longer directly linked to heavy-greenhouse gas emitting energy sources and industrial emissions. As we become more efficient, we require less energy to keep our state running. Biofuels and electric vehicles are increasing throughout the state. New and improved forms of energy generation keep coming online every year.

Our Governors of both political parties have understood that for real change to happen, we could not harm the economy. The laws they signed have given California the tools to make changes necessary to stem the tide of greenhouse gas emissions while giving the state’s businesses ample room to operate. Those laws, particularly AB 32, gave our economy the certainty to know what our regulations and policies would be for decades to come, but the flexibility to meet those reductions in emissions in the most cost-effective manner, ramping up gradually over time.

Nearly a decade later, it is clear that California is living up to its billing as the innovation economy. What is good for our environment has proven to be a boon for our state and its people. Nor can we wait to take more action: we’re already feeling the effects of climate change in our state, including fixing levees to address catastrophic flooding and increasing water storage to address drought.

Now we have become a beacon of influence for climate change solutions the world over. We’ve partnered with regions in China, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada to strengthen our group effort at battling back climate change. And the leadership of Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and the continued work of Governor Brown, a Democrat, show that climate change does not only affect people of one political party or the other – so we won’t allow ourselves to be limited by those labels either.

There is certainly more work to do, and any progress will take time and effort on the part of all Californians. But we welcome the challenge. Thanks to the work of Governor Schwarzenegger, Governor Brown and countless other leaders from both the public and private sectors, we have made reducing climate change, and a commitment to a green economy, one of our greatest exports to the world.