Category Archives: United States

California and Mexico: Valuable teammates in the fight against climate change

en español  |  For nearly a decade, California’s landmark climate change law, AB 32, has been widely recognized for its efforts to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and build a low-carbon future.

Mexico flag and palm tree

Working together, California and Mexico can maximize the mutual benefits of setting high environmental standards to build low-carbon economies for the future. (Photo credit: Flickr user gabofr)

While climate action in Washington, D.C. continues to be stymied, our neighbor to the south is a key player and emerging leader on the global climate stage and is willing and able to join California in the fight.

Mexico has been a leader in advancing UN global climate change talks and recently passed its own historic climate change law.

These actions have garnered much attention from the international community, including Governor Jerry Brown.

In fact, his administration has indicated it is reaching out to Mexico on climate change, and just this week we’ve learned that Mexico’s President, Enrique Peña Nieto, is planning a visit to the Golden State.

The opportunities here can’t be overstated. As Governor Brown pointed out in his 2014 State of the State Address, if we want to move the needle on cutting carbon pollution, California can’t do it alone.

The collaboration between California and Mexico could be a powerful force to move global action on climate change forward, while creating mutual benefits. And, the partnership is both a natural and practical one.  California and Mexico have deep cultural, political, and economic ties that bind their histories, and climate change represents an opportunity for leaders on both sides of the border to work together to shape our collective future.

There are five primary areas where Mexico’s and California’s existing efforts to curb climate change align:

Climate efforts in California and Mexico
 CaliforniaMexico
1. Comprehensive climate change lawsPassed in 2006, AB32, the state’s landmark climate law, sets a declining cap on emissions in sectors producing the most GHG pollution. The law confirmed California's commitment to transition to a sustainable, clean energy economy, helped put climate change front and center on the national agenda and spurred similar action by states and regions across the U.S.In 2012, Mexico passed a broad climate change law with ambitious goals for reducing GHGs. Mexico’s climate change law does not yet mandate its GHG targets, but rather establishes voluntary targets comparable in scale to California’s mandatory limits. It also sets a comprehensive institutional, technical, and legal plan to help achieve those goals. This historic program is being built right now.
2. Climate policy strategiesAB 32 lays out a strategy and a comprehensive set of actions including:

  • Expanding and strengthening energy efficiency programs and building and appliance standards.
  • Achieving a statewide renewable energy mix of 33% by 2020.
  • Developing a California cap-and-trade program that links with other partner programs to create a larger market system.
  • Establishing targets for transportation-related GHG emissions for regions throughout California.
  • Adopting and implementing direct measures to reduce emissions and protect public health, including California's clean car standards, goods movement measures and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
Mexico’s climate change strategy focuses on areas that align with California’s vision of a lower carbon future:

  • Accelerating a transition toward clean energy sources
  • Reducing energy intensity through energy efficiency and conservation
  • Building sustainable cities
  • Reducing particulate pollution and short-lived climate pollutants.
  • Improving management of agricultural and forest lands
3. Economic efficiencyCalifornia’s successful carbon market provides a great example of how environmental and economic policy can work hand in hand.  It is also spurring innovation and investment in a clean and efficient economy while benefiting the state’s most disadvantaged communities.Mexico is laying the groundwork for market mechanisms. From the potential for emissions trading to renewable energy markets, the country’s law prioritizes economically efficient means to achieve its climate goals, but more work is needed.
4. Historic energy reformA majority of California’s emissions come from its energy sector, including transportation fuels. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) uses a market-based cap and trade approach to lowering the greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum-based fuels like reformulated gasoline and diesel. The LCFS slowly changes the California fueling system by providing opportunities for all fuel types to improve and grow.Energy reform is creating an unprecedented host of opportunities in Mexico. The majority of Mexico’s emissions come from its energy sector, including electricity generation and the production and burning of transportation fuels. An overhaul of long-standing energy monopolies creates new opportunities for developing renewable energy, cleaning up energy production and producing cleaner transportation fuels.
5. Natural resource protectionCalifornia’s climate law may permit a small number of credits from Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) to be used in its carbon market. This would reward indigenous and forest-dwelling communities, potentially including those in Mexico, with incentives for ecosystem protection.Mexico is building models for comprehensive programs to reduce emissions from forest destruction through REDD. The cutting and burning of tropical forests worldwide contributes more GHG emissions each year than the entire global transportation sector. Mexico’s forests are a vital resource for its rural population and home to some of the world’s richest areas of biodiversity. Incentivizing best practices in agricultural production also targets a significant source of emissions from land use.

It’s become abundantly clear that international partnerships are key to effectively reducing GHG emissions, preventing the most disastrous effects of climate change, and building resilient economies that will help protect the planet for future generations.

Ultimately, California can catalyze action outside of its borders with partners like Mexico, amplifying the impact of our efforts to cut carbon pollution. Working together, California and Mexico can maximize the mutual benefits of setting high environmental standards to build low-carbon economies for the future.

(This post originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog on Mar. 4)

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Does the future of the Amazon rainforest lie in California?

Derek and CA delegation Jan 2014

From left to right: Lubenay, Juan Carlos Jintiach, Derek Walker and Megaron Txucarramae (a leader of Brazil’s indigenous Kayapo tribe).

This post was co-authored by Steve Schwartzman, EDF's director of tropical forest policy, and originally appeared on EDF Voices.

Over the past year, California’s new carbon market has held five auctions, generating $530 million for projects that reduce climate pollution in the state. This is just the start, however, as we believe the program has potential to achieve substantial environmental benefits half a world away in the Amazon rainforest.

We are working with community partners, scientific and business leaders, and California policy makers to craft a rule that permits credits from REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) to be used in California’s carbon market, rewarding indigenous and forest-dwelling communities with incentives for ecosystem protection.

California is leading the way

Using California’s new carbon market to reward rainforest protection would be a powerful signal to Brazil, Mexico, and other tropical countries—and to the world—that leaving forests standing is more profitable than cutting them down.

With the right rules in place, California could create an international gold standard for REDD credits that could be adopted by emerging carbon markets in China, Mexico and beyond.

The right technology

There’s a misperception about how hard it is to measure whether forests are being destroyed or protected. Current technology makes it possible, right now. Satellite and airplane-based sensors are already capable of recording what’s going on with high accuracy. This technology enables us to measure emissions reductions across whole states or countries, the best way to ensure that the reductions are real.

The right partners

We need to help pull together the best policy experts, scientists, and environmental organizations to help California government officials write model rules for REDD that can create a race-to-the-top for forest protection around the world. We need to show that trailblazing states – like Acre in Brazil and Chiapas in Mexico – are ready to be partners with California and can deliver the rigorous level of enforcement and program implementation that California requires.

The right time

There’s real urgency to linking California’s carbon market with REDD. Even though Brazil, home to the world’s largest tracts of tropical forests, has cut deforestation by about 75% from its 1996-2005 levels and consequently become the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that progress is fragile. Over the past year, agribusiness has been pushing back hard against law enforcement and the creation of protected reserves, and deforestation increased nearly 30%. If we want Brazil to continue reducing its deforestation towards zero, we must provide economic incentives to protect the Amazon, and California can be an important catalyst in doing that.

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What President Obama's Climate Action Plan means for international efforts on climate change

In a powerful speech earlier today, President Obama announced a comprehensive, common-sense set of steps that the Administration is taking to address climate change by cutting carbon pollution, preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change, and leading international efforts to address global climate change. It’s worth taking a look at what the President’s speech, and the Climate Action Plan he unveiled today, might mean in the international arena.

President Obama's new Climate Action Plan emphasizes the U.S. role in global efforts to stop climate change.

Much of the plan concerns what the U.S. – the world’s second-largest emitter – can do to reduce emissions at home. A major component is the President’s decision to direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move ahead with carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, which account for about 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Putting in place such standards – using authority the Administration already has under the Clean Air Act – is the single most important step the U.S. can take to reduce carbon emissions.

More broadly, the President laid out a whole-of-government approach that includes actions from the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Interior, Transportation, and other agencies across the federal government. (EDF President Fred Krupp provides an overview of the plan and his reactions to it on our EDF Voices blog.)

But there is also a welcome emphasis on the U.S. role in global efforts to address climate change, through measures that include reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), expanding clean energy use, mobilizing climate finance and leading efforts to address climate change through international negotiations.

The President’s plan highlights the recent agreement between the U.S. and China to work together in phasing down the consumption and production of HFCs – industrial gases used in applications such as refrigeration and cooling that are thousands of times more potent warmers than carbon dioxide on a pound-for-pound basis. And the plan points to the critical importance of helping vulnerable countries adapt to a changing climate, pledging to strengthen resilience to climate change around the world.

Comprehensive climate action plan includes efforts on international aviation emissions and coal-fired power plants around the world

Among the many international issues covered by the plan – many describing work that is already underway – two specific commitments stand out as worth focusing on in the coming months.

1) First, the Climate Action Plan recognizes the importance of addressing global warming pollution from international air travel, highlighting that the Administration is “working towards agreement to develop a comprehensive global approach” in the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO. Progress on aviation is important not only because of the emissions involved (if global aviation were a country, it would rank in the world’s top ten largest emitters) but also because it represents an area where the international community could make headway in the near term. An agreement in ICAO at its upcoming meeting in September would give a valuable boost to international efforts more broadly, simply by demonstrating that agreement in multilateral forums is possible.

Of course, “working toward agreement” is pretty broad. But it seems reasonable to expect the Administration to be at least as ambitious as the airline industry itself. Earlier this month, the International Air Transport Association called for ICAO to agree on a global market-based measure to cap emissions from international aviation, and put forward principles to help governments reach that agreement.

ICAO should commit, this year, to develop such a detailed approach over the next three years and formally adopt it at the next ICAO Assembly in 2016. Such an ICAO agreement won’t happen without visible and assertive U.S. backing, however. That’s why it was so welcome to see international aviation mentioned in the action plan – and why we (and the rest of the environmental community) will be watching the Administration’s actions with interest over the next few months, and holding the Administration to its commitment to lead.

2) Second, the plan announces a new and stronger commitment to end financing for new coal-fired power plants around the world. The President “calls for an end to U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas,” with narrow exceptions for the world’s poorest countries (in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists) or coal plants that capture and store their carbon emissions. This pledge appears to go considerably beyond the guidelines for coal-plant financing by multilateral development banks that the U.S. Treasury released in 2009, both by setting a higher bar for what coal plants would still be allowed and by covering all U.S. government support (including financing from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Ex-Im Bank, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and USAID).

As importantly, the plan commits the Administration to “work actively to secure the agreement of other countries and multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies as soon as possible.” That sort of leadership will be critical, since past attempts to limit financing of new coal plants by multilateral development banks have run into significant opposition. A bright-line position from the U.S. government could be crucial in providing clarity on the issue and helping to push the world away from coal.

Ultimately, the international impact of the President’s speech and Climate Action Plan will depend on the emissions reductions that result. Carried out ambitiously, the steps announced yesterday could help put the United States on the path to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 – meeting the target that the U.S. inscribed in the Copenhagen Accord in 2009.

Making good on that pledge, even in the face of intransigence by the U.S. Congress, would provide a welcome sign of renewed U.S. leadership. Today’s climate plan is an important step in the right direction.

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