EDF Talks Global Climate

Why it matters that California hit its 2020 emissions target four years early

sacramento california cityscape skyline on sunny day, water, wetland

Sacramento, Calif. cityscape. Photo credit: digidreamgrafix

This post was authored by Jonathan Camuzeaux and Maureen Lackner

California hit its 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target four years ahead of schedule, according to 2016 emissions data released yesterday by the state. At this rate, the state is well-positioned to formally meet its 2020 target assuming it keeps up the good work.

While the world’s emissions are once again on the rise and the Trump Administration is pulling the U.S. backward on climate progress at the federal level, states and regions continue pushing ahead, and California is at the front of the pack. California’s monumental achievement is worth celebrating – and it’s worth investigating how the state got here, and the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Latest emissions data

Here are some highlights from the annual California Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory published yesterday:

  • California’s 2016 emissions fell to 429 MMt CO2e, beating the 2020 target of 431 MMt CO2e, the statewide greenhouse gas emissions level in 1990.
  • This was the fourth year in a row of emissions reductions in California, where emissions dropped by 3% (12 MMt CO2e) between 2015 and 2016. Emissions fell 13% (64 MMt CO2e in 2016) compared against 2004, when emissions in the state peaked.
  • Business is booming as emissions are falling. In the last year, California’s GDP grew 3% while the carbon intensity of the economy dropped 6%. From January 2013 to December 2016, California added over 1.3 million jobs, an 8% increase, outpacing U.S-wide job growth of 6% in the same period.

The report is an annual update of statewide GHG emissions based on state, regional, and federal data sources, as well as facility-specific information from California’s Mandatory GHG Reporting Program (MRR). The GHG Inventory includes both emissions covered by cap and trade and the remaining 20% of emissions outside the program. Although the GHG Inventory report does not distinguish between emissions within and outside cap and trade, the latest MRR report shows that both categories of emissions fell in 2016, suggesting that California’s multi-pronged approach to emissions reductions is working.

The earlier, the better

Global warming is caused by the cumulative emissions that are present in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for more than a century, so earlier emissions reductions mean there are fewer years for those tons of carbon to have a warming impact on our climate. So beating the 2020 target is important for the atmosphere, but also gets us off to a good start to meet the even more ambitious 2030 target.

Where California’s reductions are coming from

The electric power sector is responsible for about 16% of the state’s 2016 emissions, and accounts for over 85% of gross reductions. Relative to 2015, total sector emissions fell 18%, while emissions from in-state power generation fell 15% and imported electric power emissions dropped 22%. CARB analysis attributes these reductions to growth in utility-scale renewables, as well as rooftop solar generation.

Hydropower also generated larger amounts of electricity than usual due to heavy rainfall in 2016. Small reductions came from industry (a 2% sector-wide drop) and agriculture (1% sector-wide).
Although not enough to fully counteract power sector decreases, some sectors’ emissions increased in 2016. California’s 2016 transportation emissions—the largest source of GHGs in the state—increased by about 2%, continuing the sector’s trend of slowly rising emissions since 2014. Emissions from commercial and residential activities grew by 4%, but account for less than a tenth of total state emissions.

Looking ahead

Given current emissions reductions, the state can start to look forward to its more ambitious 2030 target of getting emissions 40% below 1990 levels. The state’s 2017 “Scoping Plan,” which EDF supported, lays out a comprehensive plan for how to approach this target. All the signs are positive right now and if additional measures are needed to meet state requirements for 2030, there is still plenty of time to pursue those.

California is clearly demonstrating that smart, market-based policy helps us meet targets faster and more cheaply than originally envisioned. California is growing its GDP and adding jobs faster than the national average, and cutting carbon even faster than we expected. This creates a strong foundation for the even more dramatic transition California needs to reach its next goal in 2030.
In the coming decades, the world must get on track for deep emissions reductions and a dramatic transformation to a cleaner economy. California is helping to blaze the trail to that future by demonstrating once again that meeting ambitious climate targets is possible while maintaining a thriving economy.

Posted in California, United States / 1 Response

California Bucks Global Trend with another Year of GHG Reductions

A parabolic trough solar thermal electric power plant located at Kramer Junction in California | Photo: Wikimedia

By Jonathan Camuzeaux and Maureen Lackner

The California Air Resources Board’s November 6 release of 2016 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data from the state’s largest electricity generators and importers, fuel suppliers, and industrial facilities shows that emissions have decreased even more than anticipated. California’s emissions trends are showing what is possible with strong climate policies in place and provide hope even as new analysis projects that global emissions will increase by 2% in 2017 after a three-year plateau.

California’s emissions kept falling in 2016

The 2016 emissions report, an annual requirement under California’s regulation for the Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (MRR), shows that emissions covered by the state’s cap-and-trade program are shrinking, and doing so at a faster pace than in prior years. Covered emissions have dropped each year that cap and trade has been in place, amounting to 31 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (MMt CO2e) over the whole period, or 8.8% reduction relative to 2012. The drop between 2015 and 2016 accounts for over half of these cumulative reductions (16 MMt CO2e; 4.8% reduction relative to 2015). The electricity sector is responsible for the bulk of this drop: electricity importers reduced emissions about 10 MMt CO2e while in-state electricity generation facilities reduced emissions by about 7 MMt CO2e.

Some sectors’ emissions grew in 2016. Just as with global transportation emissions, California’s transportation emissions have steadily crept up in recent years, and the MRR report suggests this trend is continuing. Transportation fuel suppliers, which account for the largest share of total emissions, reported a 1.8 MMt CO2e increase in emissions covered by cap and trade since 2015. Cement plants and hydrogen plants also experienced small increases in covered emissions. One of the benefits of cap and trade, however, is that if the clean transition is occurring more slowly in one sector, other sectors will be required to reduce further to keep emissions below the cap while the whole economy catches up.

Emissions that are not covered by the cap-and-trade program dropped, from 92 MMt CO2e in 2015 to 87 MMt CO2e in 2016. While small, this represents the largest reduction in non-covered emissions since 2012 and is mostly driven by suppliers of natural gas/NGL/LPG and electricity importers. Net non-covered and covered emissions reductions resulted in a 20.5 MMt CO2e drop in total emissions from these sectors. 

These results are a welcome reminder that the cap-and-trade program is working in concert with other policies to accomplish the primary objective of reducing emissions.

The California climate policies are accomplishing their emissions reductions goals

The 2016 MRR data indicate impactful reductions in GHG emissions and progress toward reaching the state’s target emissions reductions by 2020. The 2016 emissions drop is a consequence of several factors: a CARB analysis of the year’s electricity generation points to increased renewable capacity, decreased imports of electricity from coal-fired power plants, and increased in-state hydroelectric power production. To put it in perspective, the 20.5 MMt CO2e emissions reductions is equivalent to offsetting the energy use of about 2.2 million homes, or 16% of California’s households.

Emissions below the cap are a climate win, not a concern

Total covered emissions in 2016 were about 324 MMt CO2e, well below California’s 2016 cap of roughly 382 MMt. Some observers of the cap-and-trade program worry that an “oversupply” of credits will result in reduced revenue for the state and lesser profits for traders on the secondary market. This concern was especially pronounced when secondary market prices dipped below the price floor in 2016 and 2017.

Importantly, oversupply of allowances is not a bad thing for the climate. As Frank Wolak, an energy economist at Stanford, points out, oversupply may be a sign of an innovative economy in which pollution reductions are easier to achieve than anticipated. Furthermore, having emissions below the cap represents earlier than anticipated reductions which is a win for the atmosphere. Warming is caused by the cumulative emissions that are present in the atmosphere so earlier reductions mean gases are not present in the atmosphere for at least the period over which emissions are delayed.

While market stability is a valid concern, the design of the program has built-in features to prevent market disruptions. Furthermore, the California legislature’s recent two-thirds majority vote to extend the cap-and-trade program through 2030 provides long-term regulatory certainty. Both the May and August auctions were completely sold out suggesting that the extension has succeeded in stabilizing demand.

These results are a welcome reminder that the cap-and-trade program is working in concert with other policies to accomplish the primary objective of reducing emissions, and that we’re doing it cheaply is an added bonus. Early reductions at a low cost can lead to sustained or even improved ambition as California implements its world-leading climate targets.

As California closes its fifth year of cap and trade, it should be with a sense of accomplishment and optimism for the future of the state’s emissions.

Posted in California, Emissions trading & markets / Leave a comment

EDF-IETA maps show how the world can double down on carbon pricing

Carbon pricing

Currently, about 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are covered by carbon pricing. More details about this map can be found in the Doubling Down on Carbon Pricing report by EDF and IETA.

There are a number of signs we are entering a golden age for carbon pricing. Perhaps the most important one is that many countries around the world are currently considering carbon pricing policies to achieve their greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

And for good reason.

A price on carbon gives emitters a powerful incentive to reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost, it promotes innovation while rewarding the development of even more cost-effective technologies, it drives private finance, and it can generate government revenue.

This spring, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde convened the Carbon Pricing Panel to urge countries and companies around the world to put a price on carbon. On April 21, 2016, the Panel announced the goals of doubling the amount of GHG emissions covered by carbon pricing mechanisms from current levels (about 12 percent, as illustrated in the map below) to 25 percent of global emissions by 2020, and doubling it again to 50 percent within the next decade.

EDF and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) worked together to explore a range of possible, though non-exhaustive, scenarios for meeting these goals. You can see the results in a series of maps which show how carbon pricing can be expanded worldwide.

Achieving the Carbon Pricing Panel’s goals will be a crucial stepping stone to realizing the ambition of the Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Meeting that objective will require countries not only to implement the targets they have already announced, but to ratchet up their efforts dramatically in the years ahead. Carbon pricing will have to play a key role in that effort.

Explore how the world can reach the Carbon Pricing Panel’s ambitious goals.

Posted in Emissions trading & markets / Leave a comment

California Market at Three: All Grown Up and Thriving

This post was co-authored by Jonathan Camuzeaux and Derek Walker.

2960384757_155b4e2efa_zAs we pointed out in August, no news is good news when it comes to California’s cap-and-trade quarterly allowance auctions, which have been running effectively and without hiccups since November 2012. That’s right, last Tuesday’s auction marks the three-year anniversary of the program’s first auction, and the fifth time that California and the Canadian province of Quebec have conducted a joint auction. Time flies by when you settle into a routine, and another set of consistent, stable results indicates once again that California has a strong, well-functioning cap-and-trade program.

Steady results equal a healthy carbon market

Over 75 million current vintage allowances – which covered entities can use for compliance as early as this year – were offered at last Tuesday’s auction, and 100% of these allowances were purchased at a price of $12.73. This price, known as the settlement price, is 63 cents above the floor price set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for this auction, and is in line with previous auctions where allowances have cleared at prices slightly above the floor. In the advanced auction for 2018 vintage allowances – which can only be used starting in 2018 – over 10 million allowances were offered and 100% of these were purchased at a price of $12.65. Read More »

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Cap and Trade under AB 32 – Now it’s an “Official Success”

By: Jonathan Camuzeaux and Tim O’Connor

iStock_000004415617SmallMany people have been following the AB 32 cap-and-trade program since it kicked off on January 1, 2013. After all, it’s the most comprehensive carbon market in the world; it has created billions in investments for pollution reduction in California communities and garnered intense international attention. Now, based on data showing the program has cut climate pollution during its first compliance period, the chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has dubbed it “officially a success.”

Under California’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting program, the largest polluters in the state across all sectors must report their emissions every year. This data is then collected and counted by CARB. Yesterday, the agency released the final tally of the 2014 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions covered by cap-and-trade, and with data, we get the final word on what happened during the program’s first compliance period (for years 2013 and 2014). Read More »

Posted in California, Emissions trading & markets / Leave a comment

Cap and Trade under AB 32 – Now it’s an “Official Success”

By: Jonathan Camuzeaux and Tim O’Connor

iStock_000004415617SmallMany people have been following the AB 32 cap-and-trade program since it kicked off on January 1, 2013. After all, it’s the most comprehensive carbon market in the world; it has created billions in investments for pollution reduction in California communities and garnered intense international attention. Now, based on data showing the program has cut climate pollution during its first compliance period, the chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has dubbed it “officially a success.”

Under California’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting program, the largest polluters in the state across all sectors must report their emissions every year. This data is then collected and counted by CARB. Yesterday, the agency released the final tally of the 2014 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions covered by cap-and-trade, and with data, we get the final word on what happened during the program’s first compliance period (for years 2013 and 2014). Read More »

Posted in California / Leave a comment