British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who just stepped down today,
takes part in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s climate change bill signing ceremony last fall on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay in this NWN video.
It was participation in an historic day and another move in extending California’s work with countries around the world on climate change. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his friend, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, met early yesterday at 10 Downing Street in London reviewing the state of play on climate change and other issues, holding a press conference, and conducting a roundtable with The Climate Group of top British executives and environmental officials before touring an energy efficient school.
Blair’s office announced that it was the final official visit for Blair during his more than 10 year tenure as Britain’s prime minister — the longest of any Labour prime minister in Britain’s history — as well as his last press conference in office. By the time you read this today, Blair will have stepped down as prime minister, handing off the post to new Labour Party leader and longtime Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Gordon Brown.
Last year, Blair and Schwarzenegger held several meetings in California as the former action movie superstar made plans for the state’s greenhouse gas reduction program and signed the first of several accords with other states and foreign principalities committing the state to working jointly on climate change. Last fall, Blair participated live by satellite when Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez’s landmark climate change bill in a dramatic ceremony on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.
Yesterday morning in London, Schwarzenegger praised Britain under Blair for helping show the way for California in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while growing the British economy. He also praised Blair for his impending appointment as international envoy for the Middle East — a post for which the outgoing prime minister has reportedly been approved by the Quartet group of the US, UN, European Union, and Russia — but mock lamented that Blair could not play a similar role with regard to the global greenhouse effect.
The day before, Schwarzenegger held a wide-ranging discusssion with new French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace. The two discussed several matters, including Schwarzenegger’s 2008 trade mission to Europe and possible collaboration between California and France on climate change.
Schwarzenegger sees this as a particularly good time for that involvement, since France will be assuming the rotating presidency of the European Union.
Clearly, Schwarzenegger has new climate change accords in mind, with France and perhaps the entire European Union. This would put even more pressure on the federal government to act. And eventually it would likely lead to California being part of a very large and probably more efficient carbon trading market.
Europe has had problems with the start-up of its carbon trading scheme, as Blair has acknowledged and London roundtable participants discussed. California can learn from that as it implements its own climate change law. And as critics, and Schwarzenegger himself, have noted, the state’s Air Resources Board can do more starting out from a regulatory standpoint to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before moving to carbon trading in an overall cap and trade set-up than it has so far.
While the visit with Sarkozy was important for Schwarzenegger’s plans — the newly elected French president, touted by many American rightists, is actually a staunch greenhouse warrior who is already playing a central role in European politics, which are continuing to unfold in the wake of the European Council summit last week in Brussels — and his Sunday visit to this Austrian hometown held sentimental as well as political relevance, the trip was prompted by Blair’s retirement. Which, as I write it, I see is an odd way of characterizing what Blair has just done, since he is 54 years old and moving to at least one and probably two major international posts in the future. (In the near term, the Mideast envoyship. In the longer term, a prospective permanent presidency of the European Union.)
Schwarzenegger presented his friend, an avid guitarist, with a custom electric guitar made by a disabled California artist. The two men, to the surprise of many, actually have much in common. Blair uttered a very Arnold-like sentiment in his speech last month in which he announced his plan to step down as prime minister, saying: “Politics may be the art of the possible, but in life it’s good to give the impossible a go.”
Each has found the sweet spot of politics in the center. Blair remade the nearly moribund Labour Party in Britain, reinventing it in the early 1990s as “New Labour.” While it’s not what the hard left wanted, it worked as in 1997 he won the biggest landslide election in 165 years, along with two subsequent national elections. The economy, education, and the environment have all improved throughout his tenure. His problem has been the downward spiral of Iraq, in which venture Britain has been America’s staunchest and, for practical purposes, only real ally. Blair’s influence on the Bush Administration and the president himself, with whom Blair has a warm relationship as he had with Bill Clinton before him, was frequently blunted by hardcore conservatives such as Vice President Dick Cheney, but that’s a matter for another piece.
Like Blair, Schwarzenegger has flourished in the center. The former Mr. Universe is back to his original centrist leanings of 2002 and 2003, expressed prior to his rather centrist Republican campaign in the 2003 recall election and first bipartisan year of governance prior to the rightward shift of 2005.
So it’s natural that two essentially optimistic men who have found great political success by eschewing the old dogmas of their political parties would find a great deal of common ground, forging a lasting political alliance in the process.
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