"America is more than just Washington or one leader," the actor and former California governor told delegates gathered for the United Nations climate talks.
President Donald Trump's controversial decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement in 2017 has left a hole of more than 2 billion euros in the UN's Green Climate Fund.
"Everytime you talk about America, you’re right when you say that our leadership in Washington is a little bit backwards," Schwarzenegger said. However he insisted it was up to local leaders to take up the mantle of fighting climate change.
The US withdrawal - due to come into effect in 2020 - has dented trust among vulnerable nations, who fear there is not enough cash to help them adapt to climate change, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said.
In his opening address, he warned that the world is way off course in its attempt to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Trump, a climate change sceptic, has revived the coal industry since coming to power.
Ramping up climate finance
To ease concerns about the lack of climate finance, the World Bank on Monday pledged 175 billion euros in investment between 2021 and 2025.
In a similar move, Switzerland announced an aid package of 120 million euros to help developing countries. Alain Berset, president of Switzerland, told RFI: "I think it is important to be engaged through financing, to help developing countries for adaptation and mitigation."
Nations most threatened by rising sea levels and devastating droughts used a special UN summit to urge richer countries to pay their fair share in the climate change fight.
"After the Paris Agreement, it is important to see that the implementation [of the rule book] happens and that transparency happens. It must be fair, and to be fair it must be transparent," Berset added, referring to the indicators countries will use to track their progress in cutting carbon emissions.
Host country Poland has been advocating a third way approach: a "just transition" from fossil fuels that critics say could allow it to continue polluting for decades.
Transformation is inevitable
Jan Witajewski, a researcher at the Institute for Structural Research at the University of Warsaw, told RFI: "Transition is necessary. It is inevitable because the prices of renewables are falling and for the environment it is better if we do it sooner rather than later."
Given Poland's dependency on coal, Witajewski acknowledged that the transformation would be challenging but manageable. "In the 90s, [the region of] Silesia was completely dependent on coal. If you switched off one mine it was a big tragedy," he said.
Not anymore. "Nowadays the coal mining sector is there, but it's less than 10 percent of the economy. The rest is manufacturing, or construction. A big part of this transformation is already taking place."
A model for France?
The issue of a fair transition has notably dominated debate in France where protests over high fuel prices have gathered pace.
"A just transition means there are no losers, that no one is left behind," Witajewski said in response to events in Paris.
"From an economic point of view, taxing fuel is good," he added. "But at the same time you have to be sensitive to the public opinion. One way of doing this is to increase taxes, but at a time where oil prices are lower."