The governor said the state will push for further industrial reductions and initiatives such as placing greater emphasis on renewable energy and hydrogen-fueled cars.
Wednesday, Schwarzenegger is scheduled to sign a bill in San Francisco imposing a first-in-the-nation emissions cap on utilities, refineries and manufacturing plants.
The move come two years after the state imposed tight regulations on automobile tailpipe emissions, an initiative that is being challenged in federal court by automakers.
Schwarzenegger, a bodybuilder-turned-actor before becoming governor, used a personal metaphor to frame the goal of cutting the state's emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
"In fitness, the field I come from, it's all part of goals. You step on the scales and say, 'I weigh 220 pounds; I want to get my body weight down to 200. Here's the plan and how to do it, and I'm going to check every day if I get there,"' Schwarzenegger said. "That's what we're trying to do here with the emissions (of) greenhouse gases."
Schwarzenegger said he hopes California's efforts will inspire other states and the federal government, which critics say has done little to curb the emissions scientists blame for warming the Earth.
"We are trying to bring other people in and inspire them and work with them," said Schwarzenegger, in an Associated Press interview. "We want to be in the forefront. California has always been known for that."
Schwarzenegger's endorsement of the global warming issue has helped burnish his environmental credentials during a year in which he faces re-election against state treasurer Phil Angelides, the Democratic nominee, who also has embraced the state cap.
A nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California poll released Tuesday has Schwarzenegger leading Angelides 48 percent to 31 percent. The poll, a telephone survey of 1,091 likely voters conducted Sept. 13-20, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The industrial emissions cap deal hammered out by Schwarzenegger and the state's legislative Democrats has been praised by environmentalists, but business leaders have warned that it will increase their costs and force them to scale back their California operations.
Schwarzenegger dismissed the criticism, citing a study by the University of California at Berkeley that estimates 89,000 jobs will be created as the state weans itself from fossil fuels.
"When you set goals, it makes other industries be innovative. They end up being innovative and creating new ways of solving problems, and that's what this is all about," Schwarzenegger said. "We feel very strongly we can do that and add jobs and make industries boom."
Many scientists believe greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are trapping heat in the atmosphere, leading to a warming of the Earth. In turn, that threatens to alter weather patterns, shrink wildlife habitat and raise sea levels.
In California, state reports have predicted that warming could lead to earlier melting of the Sierra snowpack, flooding in the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay area, and changes in growing seasons for the country's largest agricultural producer. Climate change also could threaten the state's water supply.
If re-elected, Schwarzenegger said he would seek legislation to protect the state's coastline in the face of rising ocean levels. He also wants to shore up the state's vulnerable drinking water supplies by building more reservoirs.
But California's global warming strategy already faces legal hurdles. Federal lawsuits related to greenhouse gas issues involving California, Vermont and Massachusetts could threaten California's ability to meet its goals.
Earlier this week, a federal judge in Fresno ruled that a coalition of automakers could pursue its lawsuit against the state for forcing them to cut tailpipe emissions.
Even so, Massachusetts and 11 other states, including California, continue to challenge the Bush administration's decision not to regulate heat-trapping carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The case is before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"That is the idea - to let enough states join the movement that eventually the federal government will say, 'I think we should also join here.' I have great hope for that," Schwarzenegger said.