California's new spending proposals benefit communities and the environment, and highlight need for long-term climate policy

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Cropped image via Flickr/ mikeslife

California drivers, communities, and businesses have endured degraded roads, unending traffic, choking pollution, and limited transit options for years.  As the population continues to grow, so too will the problems of the transportation sector (and many other sectors) unless major investments are made.

Given the profound need to clean-up California’s infrastructure, Tuesday’s $390 million expenditure award by the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and yesterday’s proposal by the State Senate to spend $1.2 billion of available dollars generated by California’s cap-and-trade auctions are important steps in reaching communities that need these upgrades most. What these critical spending plans also clearly demonstrate is that cementing 2030 pollution reduction targets into statute ensures continued investment in reducing emissions and benefiting communities.

The value of long term climate policy

It’s been no secret that a political debate is underway in Sacramento over setting long-term climate pollution targets for California. Why? Setting long- term policy will support the state’s low-carbon, prosperous economy. This process is important not just for climate change, but to ensure growth and stability in the business and investment climate that will enable our economy to flourish.

Long-term climate policy – including cap and trade and a suite of other measures – aimed at cutting pollution has been a boon to the state over the past decade, allowing the economy to flourish, resulting in massive venture capital investment, innovative products, and reduced pollution.

Within the cap-and-trade program, auctioning emissions credits has become an integral way to make the program work, though the purpose has never been to raise and maximize revenue. As a result, within the existing landscape, the auctioning of permits has allowed for additional environmental improvements through investments such as the 14 different transit projects just announced. Similarly, and as outlined by the State Senate’s proposal, the cap-and-trade program can drive myriad other investments that cut climate pollution, such as traffic flow improvements, low- carbon vehicles, energy efficiency, urban greening, and sustainable community development.

When completed, the 14 projects funded by the CalSTA will benefit nearly every major urban area in the state, transcending political boundaries, bridging economic divides, cutting air pollution, growing jobs, and reducing congestion. And, with 30 million cars on the road consuming gas at some of the highest prices in the nation, improved transit and transportation systems simply give drivers more options – saving money and creating better mobility in the long run.

The massive need to invest in California and cut carbon

Unfortunately, California has a far greater need than what this $390 million can meet (the California Transit Association projects a total need of nearly $175 billion), or what the $1.2 billion State Senate proposal would deliver. Fortunately, policies like cap-and-trade work to cut pollution through a declining cap on carbon and a price on carbon, resulting in innovation and investments in regulated businesses. As permits are auctioned, targeted investments of proceeds generated through those auctions can also produce air quality benefits while leveraging private capital and inspiring innovation.

Over the next couple weeks, Sacramento lawmakers can positively impact the long-term certainty of California climate policy and its ability to drive pollution reductions and ensure vital investments in areas like transit and improved transportation systems. The current expenditure plans and proposals — along with several billion dollars that have already been allocated — illustrate how programs such as cap and trade create real investment options that benefit people, communities, and the environment across the state.

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Six benefits of California setting a 2030 climate pollution reduction target

Setting a 2030 greenhouse gas target for California could benefit the state’s economy; environment; and future of California’s global climate leadership. Image credit: Flickr/ Jeff Turner

It’s summer recess for the California Legislature which means we have some time to reflect before the race to the end of the legislative session on August 31. A big question is whether the Legislature will pass a climate bill package that would cement ambitious 2030 carbon reduction targets into statute. With the climate spotlight shining brightly on Sacramento – as usual – it’s worth considering why legislative action and leadership is so critical now.

Here are six ways setting a 2030 greenhouse gas target for California could benefit the state’s economy; environment; and future of California’s global climate leadership, especially the groundbreaking cap-and-trade market we forged three years ago with Quebec.

  1. Cap-and-trade allowance values will more accurately reflect the long-term cost of hitting emissions reductions targets – This is the classic impact that we consider. A 2030 target means that a carbon allowance sold in 2017, for example, will be a valuable asset not just through 2020 but through 2030 as well. This could translate into higher allowance prices, but if it doesn’t, there could be good news reasons for that too, such as the market anticipating a low cost of reducing emissions.
  1. Regulated polluters will value emission reduction opportunities more highly, potentially leading to lower direct emissions – This relates back to the first point. Imagine that a business needs to buy a new boiler that they expect to last 20 years. They have the option to pay more now for a more efficient boiler or pay less now for a less efficient boiler. They are more likely to invest in the more efficient boiler if they know there will be a price on carbon catalyzing ambitious reductions for at least 15 more years rather than just five more years.
  1. Allowance banking could increase, creating more incentives for faster emission reductions – This creates an important, but more subtle, environmental benefit. If carbon prices are expected to increase in the future as the cap gets tighter, regulated and non-regulated participants alike will have an incentive to “bank” allowances for future use. (Note that an important California design feature allows a “current vintage allowance”, say 2016, to be used for emissions that occur in 2016 or in any future year.) This banking is equivalent to a reduction that occurs earlier than expected and provides a net benefit to the atmosphere. The concept of banking promotes innovative solutions that cut pollution more quickly, and makes the overall program more flexible for California companies.
  1. Demand for allowances could increase – If banking increases, the uptick in demand for allowances may mean that all or most allowances offered at the quarterly auctions sell out, even if emissions remain below the cap through 2020. Out-performing the 2020 cap would be a great outcome, meaning that the long-term price signal is likely incentivizing emissions reductions (as in the boiler example above) or that complementary measures (like the Renewable Portfolio Standard) are succeeding.
  1. Offsets developers will have a stronger incentive to reduce emissions where possible and bring projects to market – Offsets provide an opportunity for all sectors of the economy, like the agricultural sector, to be rewarded for high-quality, innovative emissions reductions. Because robust actions that cut pollution take time and investment, a longer-term commitment by the state is essential. This means that, for example, a rice farmer would be much more likely to transform their growing practices to cut methane emissions if those actions reaped a payoff for 15 instead of just five years.
  1. Communities, the California work force, and the economy will continue to benefit from Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GRRF) investments – The cap-and-trade program is first and foremost about reducing emissions not raising revenue. While the program’s purpose isn’t to maximize revenue, auctioning is an integral part of California’s well-functioning system and the undeniable benefits of the investments through the GGRF, especially for disadvantaged communities, are an important aspect of program success now and beyond 2020. California’s investments so far have furthered and enhanced the purposes of AB 32 which emphasize reducing carbon pollution in a way that maximizes benefits to the economy and environment, promotes social equity, and transforms the state into a low carbon economy. By sticking to these principles, California is creating benefits that far outweigh the initial investments. And these benefits need to continue!

A process not an event

Setting a 2030 target has been a gradual process in California. And the market may already be operating with some expectation that the cap-and-trade program will continue beyond 2020.

The market has received increasingly specific indications since 2014 that ambitious reductions will continue beyond 2020. For example, before AB 32 was ever passed, Governor Schwarzenegger signed an executive order calling for 1990 levels of emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. In 2014, the Office of Planning and Research and the Air Resources Board (ARB) started calling for an ambitious mid-term 2030 target, foreshadowing Governor Brown’s 2015 executive order setting that target at 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Since then, ARB has reopened the Scoping Plan process to meet that 2030 target and begun the regulatory process to amend the cap-and-trade program to extend it to 2030.

With a decade of world-leading, successful climate action behind it, California is on the verge of another momentous step forward. The market will gain even more certainty, and California communities and the economy will score a huge win if the Legislature does the right thing and passes a climate package this year that places a 2030 target in statute.

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With joint action plan, US and Mexico walk the walk on energy and climate

Lea aqui la version en Español.

When President Obama joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Ottawa last month at the North American Leaders’ Summit to announce ambitious goals on climate and clean energy, EDF President Fred Krupp said that “implementing them will be the true measure of success.”

Today, the United States and Mexico took important next steps towards successful implementation, announcing new details on how the two countries will work together to:

  • curb emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas responsible for a quarter of today’s warming, by reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% by 2025;
  • expand clean energy to meet the goal of 50% electricity generation from zero-carbon sources by 2025;
  • promote residential, commercial, and industrial energy efficiency; and
  • align methodologies for estimating the social cost of carbon, a key input into understanding the benefits of reducing carbon pollution.

If the June announcements were the poetry, today’s announcements were the prose — but they are no less important for it. The work plans, workshops, technical dialogues, and regulatory processes laid out in today’s announcement are the nuts and bolts of effective governing. Just as important, the concreteness and specificity of these plans give a clear signal of the countries’ strong commitment to getting these things done.

The two countries also reaffirmed their commitment to work together in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for the adoption of a robust market-based measure to limit emissions from international aviation, and to join the Paris Agreement and support its entry into force this year.

Today’s announcement provides yet another illustration of the growing importance of North American leadership on climate and clean energy — one of many recent bright spots in climate action.

The concreteness and specificity of these plans give a clear signal of the countries’ strong commitment to getting these things done.

And it’s not hard to see why. Canada and Mexico are two of the U.S.’s top three trading partners. By advancing together, the three countries can reap the full economic and environmental benefits of a clean energy economy, creating opportunities for clean energy entrepreneurs, low-carbon investment, and sustainable economic development across the continent.

Today’s announcement is a particularly strong signal from Mexico, which — with a well-earned reputation for climate leadership on the international stage — must still demonstrate how domestic policy will match those ambitious targets. Indeed, Mexico itself has much to gain from following through. With a historically oil-dependent economy, the country is already feeling the fiscal pinch of rock-bottom global oil prices. Combine that with the enormous untapped potential and newly opened market for renewable energy generation, and pathway is clear to major opportunities for economic growth through low carbon energy and efficient production.

The path to shared global prosperity is a low-carbon path. By moving from the bold type of headline announcements to the finer print of detailed workplans, the U.S. and Mexico just took a meaningful step in that direction.

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True crime is jeopardizing the future of the Amazon, but indigenous groups and Brazil’s police are fighting back – together

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Indigenous groups and law enforcement in Brazil are working together to reduce illegal mining and logging in the Amazon. About 80% of Amazon timber is produced through illegal extraction, which degrades biodiversity and carbon stocks. Photo: © Brasil2 / istockphoto.com

A new operation against land grabbers and illegal loggers in Brazil’s state of Pará is showing how collaboration between indigenous and forest communities and law enforcement can take on the biggest ongoing threats to the Amazon forest: illegal logging and illegal deforestation for land grabbing.

Launched June 30th, the operation started with an investigation two years ago after leaders from the Kayapô indigenous group reported clandestine deforestation on the western border of their territory to the Brazilian federal environmental enforcement agency, IBAMA. 

Guided by the Indians, IBAMA agents discovered encampments of workers who were clearing the forest in the indigenous territory and on adjacent public land, while leaving the tallest trees; this hid the illegal deforestation from satellite monitoring. The workers, who according to police labored under semi-slave conditions, would then burn the understory and plant pasture grass. Meanwhile, another part of the gang surveyed and forged land registry documents to sell the land. IBAMA agents shut down the camps, detained personnel and issued fines – and brought in the Prosecutor's Office and Federal Police to investigate.

We can protect the Amazon from degradation and deforestation. Both problems have the same solution.

That investigation led to an impressive 24 arrest warrants, nine subpoenas, and 18 orders for search and seizure, in five states, in what Federal Police, Prosecutor’s Office, Internal Revenue Service and IBAMA call the biggest illegal deforestation and landgrabbing mafia in the Amazon. Several of the gang’s leaders have already been imprisoned and face tens of millions of dollars in fines – as well as, potentially, stiff jail sentences.

The gang’s operation shows how the illegal value chains work.

First, the operators deploy semi-slave labor to invade reserves or occupy public land not designated for any particular use. They extract the highest-value hardwoods, then slash and burn the forest, and plant pasture. Meanwhile higher-up gang members draw up fraudulent documentation and sell the land to investors. The bosses of this high-tech organized crime enterprise run the “ranches,” coordinate a marketing group, hire surveyors and remote sensing specialists, and use family networks to launder illegal revenue. Prosecutors estimate that the group had revenues of almost $600 million between 2012—2015.

Organized criminal enterprises like this one are behind most if not all of the high-value illegal activities in the Amazon frontier zone – illegal logging, use of semi-slave labor, illegal deforestation for land grabbing and fraudulent sales, and tax evasion in the approximately 30% of the region under near-term threat of destruction or degradation.

Taking down a gang like the western Pará outfit is better than a two-for-one deal.

Operation Flying Rivers

The now-formalized program that just launched – a joint effort of Brazil’s Federal Police and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office – is called “Operation Flying Rivers,” after the huge quantities of water vapor the Amazon forest releases into the air, responsible for rainfall regimes as far away as California, which by some estimates approximates the volume of water flowing in the Amazon river.

The program is a good example of how effective collaboration between local forest communities and government authorities can be. And “Flying Rivers” goes way beyond stopping a particular invasion here, or apprehending some timber there; it aims to take apart the command structure of an entire criminal enterprise with multiple illegal value chains extending over much of western Pará.

This kind of persistent, integrated, multi-agency, enforcement campaign is central to addressing the real causes of continuing illegal deforestation and forest degradation, as well as land fraud – and critical to establishing the forest governance needed for long-term sustainable use of forests, including at-scale economic incentives for stopping legal deforestation and finance for eliminating illegal forest clearing through carbon markets and other sources.

Deforestation in Brazil

Brazil has made huge progress in reducing deforestation – but momentum has stalled. Since 2011, deforestation has been hovering around 5,000 km²/yr – not heading for zero, as an increasingly solid scientific consensus advises. This is way less than the 19,500 km²/yr average from 1996—2005, but still much too much. And, in lawless frontier regions, like southwestern Pará, illegal logging is degrading biodiversity and carbon stocks over vast areas.

It is generally held that about 80% of Amazon timber is illegally extracted, with the lion’s share sold in Brazil. That is about the same proportion of the Amazon’s current deforestation estimated to be illegal.

But you only have to look at the satellite photos to see why indigenous territories and other kinds of protected forest areas have been so important to Brazil’s success in reducing Amazon deforestation over 70% in the last decade, making it the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

Kayapô, Panará indigenous territories and Xingu Indigenous Park (dark green), with fires and smoke plumes on their borders. Indigenous territories and protected areas are effective barriers to deforestation and fires.

Kayapô, Panará indigenous territories and Xingu Indigenous Park (dark green), with fires and smoke plumes on their borders. Indigenous territories and protected areas are effective barriers to deforestation and fires. Photo: NOAA satellite.

EDF’s partners in the Xingu River basin – indigenous and traditional forest communities, including the Kayapô and 17 other indigenous peoples – monitor and defend a continuous area of protected forest more than twice the size of New York state. They have mobilized a lot of successful enforcement operations to stop illegal logging and land grabbing, including the “Flying Rivers” program.

This is why the law enforcement operation launched in Pará is so important and promising.

We can look at it as a version of “bad money drives out good” – no legitimate forestry or agricultural enterprise can compete with unrestrained organized crime. “Flying Rivers” is an excellent example of what’s needed to level the playing field. We can protect the Amazon both from degradation and from deforestation. Both problems have the same solution.

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A bright spot amid Brexit? Growing momentum for global climate action.

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A new era of climate leadership: Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. announced major joint commitments on climate and clean energy on June 29, 2016. Image Source: Presidencia de la República Mexicana

Last week’s vote by the British to leave the European Union has triggered a crisis in political leadership, thrown financial markets into turmoil and prompted eulogies for the European project – even as the ultimate consequences of the vote remain uncertain.

Against that backdrop, a bit of good news may be welcome. And it comes from an unlikely quarter: climate action.

That may sound surprising at first since climate change was hardly a high-profile issue in the Brexit campaign. Voting on the referendum reflected concerns about inequality, immigration, globalization, multiculturalism and an out-of-touch political elite.

Even so, the prospect of the United Kingdom’s departure has raised concerns about impacts on climate and energy policy, including possible delays in finalizing the EU’s 2030 emissions target.

But whatever the implications may be for Britain and the EU, one thing is clear: Brexit can’t derail the overwhelming global momentum on climate action that produced the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement: Strength in numbers

A British exit from the EU would not have any effect on the formal architecture of the agreement, which was approved last December by more than 190 countries and has been signed by 177 – including each of the EU member states.

Given that overwhelming support, the agreement may very well enter into force this year – something that will happen once at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions formally join the agreement.

To date, 50 countries representing more than 53 percent of global emissions have formally joined or committed to join the agreement this year — closing in on the threshold of 55 countries and 55 percent of emissions needed for the agreement to enter into force. As a result, the agreement may well enter into force as soon as this year, even without the EU (which was not expected to join the agreement this year in any case).

This signals a remarkable shift. A decade ago, Europe was the world’s indispensable leader on climate action – and even temporary uncertainty about the pace of progress in the EU would have had repercussions around the globe.

The Paris Agreement, however, was the culmination of a paradigm shift away from a model of “top-down” climate action concentrated in a handful of countries, and toward more a more decentralized and inclusive approach.

As climate action has become much more broad-based, it has also become more resilient.

Climate leadership beyond the EU

That is not to say that leadership on climate from both the U.K. and the EU is not vital; it is, and will continue to be. Taken as a whole, Europe is still the world’s third-largest emitter. It remains a powerful and valuable voice for ambition.

Fortunately, political support for climate action in the region remains high, with 60 percent of Europeans saying global warming is already harming people around the world.

But we are long past the days when climate progress depended on one bloc of countries. Just consider this:

  • The leaders of the three North American countries met today to announce greater cooperation on climate change – including major new commitments on clean energy and on methane emissions from oil and gas.
  • Under the leadership of President Obama, the United States is now a global leader on climate action, with U.S. emissions in 2014 at 9 percent below their 2005 level, and an ambitious target of reducing emissions between 26 and 28 percent by 2025, relative to 2005.
  • President Xi Jinping of China has made tackling climate change a priority, with a commitment to ratify the Paris Agreement this year, a pledge to peak China’s emissions by 2030, if not before; and a plan to institute a nationwide emission trading program as early as next year.
  • The unprecedented bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and China, culminating in the joint announcements on climate change made by Presidents Xi and Obama in November 2014 and again in September 2015, were a crucial step in laying the foundation for success in Paris.
  • Brazil – although currently engulfed in political turmoil of its own – has reduced emissions over the past decade more than any other country, thanks to the enormous success of its Amazon states in curbing tropical deforestation.
  • India, where the moral imperative of poverty alleviation remains paramount, is committing to renewable energy and experimenting with new models of low-carbon development.

Other factors driving momentum

Underlying these country-level shifts are more fundamental drivers. The impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly more visible, in record temperatures and extreme weather events.

A clean energy revolution is underway: Wind power is competitive with coal in much of the world even without subsidies, the cost of solar panels has dropped 75 percent in less than a decade and new technologies for how we use and store energy more efficiently are transforming markets.

Meanwhile, leading companies are stepping up by reducing their carbon footprints, greening their supply chains and calling for policies such as a price on carbon.

In short, leaders around the world have come to the realization that the path to shared global prosperity is a low-carbon path.

That makes the politics of climate action more resilient now than they ever have been before. And that is good news to keep in mind in these uncertain days.

This post originally appeared June 29 on EDF Voices.

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Brazil’s impeachment crisis puts its climate commitments at risk, threatening a major blow to global climate progress

The corruption and political crisis in Brazil could threaten global progress on climate change — but there are reasons for optimism. Above: Demonstration in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Image Source: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil

This post originally appeared on Grist.org. By André Guimarães, executive director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), and Stephan Schwartzman, senior director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund.

It may be hard to recall amid all the bad news coming from Brazil these days — the country’s worst recession in 30 years, its unprecedented corruption crisis, and above all the May 12 Senate vote to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and begin an impeachment trial against her — but this country has in recent years occupied a position of critical global leadership on climate change. Brazil is the world’s biggest reducer of greenhouse gas emissions, having slashed Amazon deforestation about 80 percent over the last decade. Brazil also contributed to the success of the Paris climate agreement last December by adopting an absolute, economy-wide emission-reduction commitment — one far more ambitious than those put forward by most developing countries.

The current crisis puts these commitments at risk, threatening a major blow to global climate progress.

Cutting and burning down trees accounts for about 15 percent of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions, and deforestation in the Amazon has ripple effects on weather patterns around the world, including rainfall as far away as California. While Brazil deserves credit for large-scale reductions in Amazon deforestation, progress has stalled in recent years. Since 2011, deforestation has been oscillating around 1,900 square miles a year rather than continuing toward zero — the goal an increasingly solid scientific consensus says is needed to guard against the risk of forest dieback. Inadequate government investment and a lack of positive incentives for forest protection are largely to blame.

The government is unlikely to allocate these needed resources during the circus of impeachment, which could last up to six months. Furthermore, for Brazil’s international climate commitments to come into force, Congress needs to make them into law — also unlikely to happen soon.

Yet we also see reasons for optimism amid the chaos and corruption.

Continue reading on Grist.org: Brazil’s impeachment crisis is bad news for climate change.

In Portuguese:  Impeachment, o ponto da virada

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