While Countries are Talking, California is Doing

Climate change is all over the news these days and while most of the news isn’t good, there are a few signs of progress.

First the bad news: a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that we have five years to act if we want to avoid the most extreme consequences of climate change.  A subsequent report issued by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in mid November confirms that the extreme weather events over the last few years are a direct result of climate change. Unfortunately, expectations are low that there will be much agreement at the international climate talks taking place in Durban this week.

Now the good news: California, the world’s 8th largest economy and 12th largest climate polluter, is leading the way on fighting climate change and the state’s economy is benefitting from an early-mover advantage.

The state just unanimously adopted a cap-and-trade program as part of its landmark Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), the law requiring California to cut climate pollution to 1990 levels by 2020.  To meet the 2020 level, California is implementing nearly 70 policies, including cap-and-trade.

The recently adopted cap-and-trade program will cover 360 of California’s largest polluters and, by 2015, over 85% of all climate pollution in the state, accelerating new innovations in clean energy, energy efficiency and fuels and stimulating next-generation solutions we have yet to even imagine.

According to a number of reports, the latest of which was published in Science Magazine, these reductions are critical if we hope to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. That report lays out what it would take to meet California’s long-term vision of slashing climate pollution 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

More good news: California can achieve early AB 32 targets through energy efficiency and other existing measures alone. Deeper cuts require significant innovation and deployment of new technologies, which is, of course, why California’s cap-and-trade system is so critical. It will put a price on pollution for the first time, motivating investors, innovators and entrepreneurs to deliver solutions that will get us where we need to be at the lowest cost possible.

The Science report should strengthen our resolve and be a wake-up call about the scale of our task.  The U.S. and other countries that are fighting about whether dramatic action is necessary will be big financial losers, and the entire world and everyone on it will be at greater risk.

As our international climate director stated on Monday in Durban, “Given the current global political and economic situations, renewal of the Kyoto Protocol is highly unlikely. But that is no excuse for the world to sit back and do nothing. We need to build on the efforts of individual countries and regions so that every nation does their part to reduce the emissions that are harming our way of life.” 

California’s examples cannot be just the CFL light bulb burning at the end of the tunnel. They must be the locomotive of a bullet train into the clean energy future.


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