Monthly Archives: November 2010

What's the matter with Arkansas?

Midwestern states have traditionally been reluctant to embrace cap and trade. Now it looks like they may well turn into some of the larger beneficiaries of the California cap-and-trade system.

The largest supplier of likely carbon offsets for the California program so far? Arkansas.

Midwestern suppliers

States of origin for CAR credits

Besides California and New York, numbers 2 and 3 on the list, none of the other states currently have cap-and-trade systems in place.

Michael Wara has a terrific blog post on this phenomenon and the ensuing politics of cap and trade. [Update: New graphs and data. The story doesn't change. The graphs are prettier, though.]

Of the four types of offsets initially allowed in California (landfills, livestock, conservation forestry, and domestic ozone depleting substances), Midwestern states are the main beneficiaries.


How will that change the politics?

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the UN-brokered international offsets system has perverse incentives. It motivates companies supplying large amounts of CDM credits (and receiving billions of dollars in return) to lobby their governments against instituting stricter domestic policies and having cap-and-trade systems on their own, lest they lose their chance of selling exactly those CDM credits. That's one of the many reasons why the CDM system ought to be radically reformed.

What makes all the difference here is that CDM credits originate mainly from industrial and energy sectors that ought to be part of domestic cap-and-trade systems in the first place. California's offsets are focused on sectors not covered by its own cap-and-trade system and most likely not covered directly in a US-wide emissions market.

A US-wide cap-and-trade system would only increase demand for these kinds of agricultural offsets and those from ozone depleting substances (ODS), making selling them even more attractive.

That by itself may not revolutionize federal politics, but at least the incentives are working in the right direction. Read More »

Posted in California, Cap and Trade, Politics / Leave a comment

Two proposals and a reality check

by Mikel JasoYesterday's New York Times published three terrific op-eds worth a second thought.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan and David Victor argue that, "To Fight Climate Change, Clear the Air." Carbon is the main climate culprit, but we can't ignore and might as well start with tackling the other greenhouse gas pollutants.

Bruce Usher argues that, "On Global Warming, Start Small." Not too small, mind you. Individual volunteerism won't do. But U.S. energy policy is made in the states, and many states are making significant progress on sensible policy measures.

Jack Hedin provides "An Almanac of Extreme Weather" from his Minnesota family farm and an important wake-up call for why we are doing what we doing. In the end, "climate instability"—the extreme fluctuations around a warming climate—may prove at least as damaging as the slow but steady upward trend in temperatures.

Posted in Climate science, International, Politics / Leave a comment

$100 billion in 1000 words

The Copenhagen Accord enshrined $100 billion as the target for north-south climate finance flows by 2020. Earlier this month, the U.N. high-level Advisory Group on climate change Financing (AGF) issued its final report on how to get there.

My colleague Miriam Chaum and I tried to summarize the 80-page report in 1000 words:

AGF report, middle carbon price scenario ($25/tCO2e in 2020). Ranges are for the middle price scenario and span net and gross flows, where applicable.

The main message is clear: $100 billion are out there. The big question is whether we can muster the political will to put the right incentives in place and indeed free them.

Some more messages and background in this short, one-page AGF fact sheet [PDF].

Posted in 1000 words, International / Leave a comment

Bending the curve

Cutting emissions is about creating opportunities for new, clean energy sources, not about crashing economies.

The Great Recession saw a crash with the most severe consequences for employment and other measures of economic output since the Great Depression. Emissions responded in kind.

Pierre Friedlingstein and a slew of co-authors provide an "Update on CO2 emissions" in the latest Nature Geoscience (HT: BBC):  Global CO2 emissions declined by 1.3% in 2009. No surprise there, although the decline was lower than projected. (A closer look at the breakdown doesn't come as much of a surprise, either: U.S. emissions declined by almost 7% in line with miserable economic figures. Chinese emissions increased once again, by +8%, in line with its continuing strong economic growth.)

The disconcerting part: global emissions are scheduled to shoot right back up in 2010 and then some at +3%.

(C) Nature Geoscience

The atmosphere barely notices these kinks in the general trend line, which continues to march up unabated. Crashing economies doesn't do anyone any good. The charge is to decouple emissions from economic development and start bending the curve [PDF].

Posted in Climate science / Leave a comment

To the mattresses

Last week saw the start of a new American environmentalism on climate policy: the gloves seem to be coming off.

Our own Fred Krupp’s article in the Huffington Post on Tuesday revealed the new fighting spirit:

[W]e have well-financed enemies in this fight, and it is time to sharpen the nation's focus on the businesses that obstruct vital progress.

Our view is that the public and the investor community need to have far greater awareness of the companies engaged in indiscriminate obstructionism. We will look for ways to hold them accountable through every reasonable lever at our disposal. We will learn to be as tough with them as they have been with us.

Looks like Al Gore took noteGodfatherHis group Repower America launched, which flags Twitter and Facebook-ready snippets on the money involved, some of the smoke and mirror tactics used (speak "front groups"), and the dirty environmental trail left by Koch Industries.

With well-funded opponents like that it is not hard to see how cap and trade got swallowed up in D.C., no matter how strong the economic arguments in favor of a well-designed carbon market were. But beware: climate change isn't going away.

To the mattresses it is.

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CCX, RIP—or is it "good riddance"?

Chicago Mercantile ExchangeThe Chicago Climate Exchange, one of the first voluntary cap-and-trade programs, is shutting down next month. That's bad news for the planet, isn't it? Just take a look at today's Wall Street Journal editorial page for an apparent confirmation. There the news is being celebrated as "cap and retreat." Check.

That should indeed be confirmation enough. Sadly, what's good for the Journal tends to be bad for the planet. Here that may not hold, although it's not for the reasons the Journal thinks.

One among many

The full editorial is behind a firewall. That's just as well. The rest is as wrong as the beginning. Let's start with the only direct quote. The Journal opinionators say the CCX advertised itself as "North America's only cap and trade system for greenhouse gasses." In fact, CCX's own webpage says it's "North America's only cap and trade system for all six greenhouse gases." That makes all the difference.

Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is or will be covered in at least 15 states. RGGI covers 10 Northeastern states with its carbon cap, and Californians just reaffirmed with a clear vote of 60 to 40 to put in place theirs (which also covers all six greenhouse gases). New Mexico has announced similar plans.

Volunteerism won't do

There's also a much larger point here. The CCX was voluntary. Companies volunteered to sign up. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in economics to realize that the only companies who sign up for reasons other than marketing purposes are the ones that have allowances to sell. Those that need to buy them, stay as far away as possible.

No market can operate under these conditions. If anything, it's surprising the market held up as long as it did—no doubt due to companies' willingness to write off their participation as a marketing expense. Why else would the price for a ton of emissions ever be much above zero?

Thanks for the memories

CCX did provide some valuable lessons for participants. Chief among them, how to implement such a trading system internally, how to minimize emissions and make money, and whether and how it would be different from SO2 trading, something many CCX participants did successfully for over a decade.

But CCX was never meant to be anything other than a precursor for a U.S.-wide system.

The same, of course, goes for most state-wide initiatives. New Mexico's plans will put the state ahead of most others in the U.S., but Santa Fe alone will not prevent China from pulling farther ahead of the U.S. in generating sustainable jobs, or decrease the billions we send to the Middle East every year.

Posted in Cap and Trade Watch / Leave a comment