Key Points:

San Francisco, Auckland, Sacramento, Wellington, Christchurch and Santa Monica all have a great deal in common. They have temperate climates, laid-back attitudes, the Pacific Ocean, a thriving film industry and a love of the outdoors.

California-New Zealand cities are also on the front lines in developing innovative and effective environmental programmes. We are cities with a global view.

When it comes to the world's most significant environmental challenge, climate change, it is clear that greenhouse gas emissions are all local. There are no international smokestacks and no cross-continental gas-guzzling vehicles.

All of the planet's climate-crisis-creating carbon dioxide emanates from communities just like ours. Cities now produce 75 per cent of all the world's greenhouse gas emissions, so climate solutions that ignore municipalities do so at the planet's peril.

Local governments are on the front lines in fighting the sources of global warming. That includes revising building codes, promoting energy efficiency, providing recycling and compost services, requiring renewable fuel and energy use, and managing transit systems.

Cities too, are responsible for dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis - from providing the first responders in case of extreme weather events to dealing with the day-to-day climate implications for public health, infrastructure, and the local economy.

A few years ago, many in the environmental community saw businesses as "part of the problem". Today we realise that without businesses there will be no solution to the climate challenge.

As a result in San Francisco we worked with the United Nations Global Compact and a coalition of local businesses to create the Business Council for Climate Change, or "BC3" as it is known (www.bc3sfbay.org).

BC3 was based on five principles agreed to by all the 70-plus members. These included taking action in your own business, acting as a community champion, developing legislation, taking collective business council BC3 actions, and providing public information on each company's climate footprint.

The first thing we found is that even with large companies like the Gap, Cisco Systems and Accenture, there was a need to know about government programmes developed to help business with climate issues.

For example, many of our businesses do not know there are financial programmes to help with everything from energy efficiency to renewable energy or transportation demand management. There are literally millions of dollars available to help companies to do this, but too often business is unaware. I have little doubt this situation, for example, is replicated in cities across New Zealand.

There are two main ways we plan to help. First, by creating a network between business and government, and secondly also a network among businesses. What we see is that some companies are doing all they can to be environmentally sensitive. Yet they feel they have a competitive disadvantage because the laggards at the bottom end of the climate curve are not being forced to take action.

Ultimately we are hoping to level the playing field so all companies become climate leaders in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Business Council for Climate Change will serve as a catalyst to engage business at a higher level on the change. For instance, we often meet building, construction and architecture firms and developers to question how we can design the best green building programme.

Now, instead of only creating mandates, we have developed incentive-based initiatives including a fast-track permitting process for developers who want to use high green building standards. Essentially, they will have the opportunity to jump to the front of the planning and building inspection line, saving them millions of dollars over the period of the project.

Businesses are seeing that by acting green (rather than just talking green) they can achieve a competitive advantage in a market where consumers are clamouring to have their values reflected in their purchases.

California and New Zealand have a great opportunity to work together and at the local level to show the world how political leadership, business innovation, and community engagement can be harnessed to achieve meaningful action in our common fight against climate change.

* Jared Blumenfeld is the director of the environment department of the City of San Francisco. He is visiting New Zealand next month for Challenges08, a conference on leadership and sustainability in Rotorua on July 2-3.