Author Archives: Jonathan Camuzeaux

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

(This blog post was co-authored with Tim O’Connor and originally posted on California Dream 2.0.)

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).

Covered emissions went down…            

According to CARB’s report, although GHGs in 2014 experienced a slight increase compared to the year before, total climate pollution across the compliance period (2013 and 2014) decreased by over three percent to approximately 146 million metric tons (MMt) of carbon dioxide-equivalent. This means California’s emissions were nine percent under its 2014 cap of 159.7 MMt, putting the state well on its way to achieve its short-term emissions reduction target: bringing emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. It also shows how cap-and-trade is best evaluated across compliance periods: since businesses have the incentive to cut pollution as quickly and deeply as possible, reductions in one year of the program may outpace those in another year.

… While California’s economy continued to prosper

Total emissions reported under the Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting program, including those not covered under cap and trade, also decreased between 2012 and 2014, by about 1.3 percent. Meanwhile, the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased by almost three percent in 2014, surpassing the two percent GDP growth California’s economy underwent the year before. So while emissions were declining under AB32, the state’s economy grew, proving once again that economic output and emissions don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

California also experienced remarkable job growth during the same period. In 2013, California saw total employment increase by 2.1 percent, beating the national average. In 2014, job growth in the state reached an impressive 3.2 percent. As a comparison, the rest of the United States experienced only an average 2.2 percent growth in jobs that year.

Companies are complying with cap and trade

Under California’s cap-and-trade program, regulated polluters are also required to surrender some of their emissions allowances every year. Yesterday, they did just that, turning in allowances needed to cover the remainder of 2013 emissions and all of 2014 emissions. Total allowances for the first compliance period represent approximately 290 MMt of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

According to data released by the agency, over 99 percent of the required allowances were surrendered in the first compliance period, barely short of a perfect score, proving companies are prepared to incorporate cap-and-trade obligations in their everyday business practices.

Looking ahead

Starting on January 1 of this year, transportation sector emissions are also regulated under California’s cap-and-trade program. This is another important step forward: emissions from transportation represent almost 40 percent of the state’s GHG emissions. It is also a crucial building block, putting California on the right track to achieve its ambitious medium and long-term targets – with the ultimate goal of reducing emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Today’s results confirm that the cap-and-trade program’s first compliance period was a success and that California has a strong foundation to build upon as it takes the next critical steps towards its climate change goals.

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The holy grail of climate economics? A price on carbon.

(This blog post was co-authored with Dominic Watson and originally posted on EDF Voices.)

If there were a competition for the most important number in the world, the price on carbon would certainly be a strong contender.

The World Bank has been a long-time supporter of carbon pricing and its recent report, Decarbonizing Development, adds a strong voice to the chorus of climate policy experts, economists, and business leaders who champion the economic, social and environmental benefits of pricing pollution.

The report underscores the importance of getting the economics of climate change policies right so we can transition cost-effectively to a carbon-neutral economy.

Because we live in a world of ‘bottom-up’ climate policy, the authors rightfully say, this will require multi-pronged policy solutions, each tailored to a country’s particular economic and political conditions.

At the heart of this broader approach, however, lies the holy grail of climate economics: a price on carbon.

Markets bring results – fossil fuel subsidies don’t

Global temperatures must stay below the 2°C threshold for the world to avoid catastrophic climate change. This requires that net carbon emissions are reduced to zero by the middle to the end of the century.

A price on pollution has been shown time and time again to be the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions. By internalizing the cost of pollution to firms – meaning, making polluters pay for the right to emit carbon – they will have an incentive to reduce emissions and look for the cheapest emissions reduction options.

A tax on carbon, or a cap-and-trade system where permits – or allowances to emit carbon – are auctioned to firms, have the added benefit of bolstering government coffers. The additional revenue can be used to, for example, offset costs low-income households incur should power rates or costs on goods rise.

It can also be used to reduce taxes, including taxes on labor and capital that can affect social welfare and create market inefficiencies.

The World Bank reminds us that getting the price right will include removing costly subsidies on fossil fuels – now estimated at $548 billion worldwide. In addition to encouraging the overconsumption of fossil fuels, these subsidies have proven ineffective for helping the poor or for promoting competitiveness.

A mix of policies can boost clean energy

A comprehensive climate policy package should include a mix of additional policies to help address other market failures, the report notes. Policy makers can help boost innovation in clean technologies, for example, by supplementing a carbon price with temporary support for investments, targeted subsidies, performance standards and technology mandates.

Case in point: California’s AB 32 program, which guarantees emissions reductions through a market based cap-and-trade program while supplementing the cap with a range of statewide regulations.

Among other things, the legislation incentivizes utilities to invest in renewables and requires building, vehicle and appliance efficiency standards that help consumers save on their electricity bills.

Next: A global price on carbon

Some countries may choose to rely on such regulatory measures alone and opt out of market-based solutions for the time being. Such policies will certainly bring countries closer to meeting their emissions goals.

In the long-term, however, a carbon price must form the linchpin of any viable national emissions reduction plan.

And ultimately, if we’re to meet that net-zero carbon emissions goal in the most cost-effective way, all countries should face the same global carbon price.

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Big Rigs: Will the Climate Benefit from Switching Diesel Trucks to Natural Gas?

Originally posted on EDF's Energy Exchange.

16058670001_80994ae935_zThe surge in natural gas production that has reshaped the American energy landscape has many in the commercial transportation sector considering whether to start shifting their heavy-duty vehicle fleets from diesel to natural gas fuel. Many are looking to an advantage in carbon dioxide emissions to justify the higher cost and reduced fuel efficiency of a natural gas vehicle.

But in fact, a study published today in Environmental Science & Technology finds that while there are pathways for natural gas trucks to achieve climate benefits, reductions in potent heat trapping methane emissions across the natural gas value chain are necessary, along with engine efficiency improvements. If these steps are not taken, switching truck fleets from diesel to natural gas could actually increase warming for decades.

Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, has 84 times more warming power than CO2 over a 20-year timeframe. Reducing emissions throughout the natural gas value chain is an important opportunity to reduce our overall greenhouse footprint.

Growing Body of Research

The new study examines several different types of engine technologies, and both liquefied and compressed natural gas fuels, and concludes that a conversion from diesel could lead to greater warming over the next 50 to 90 years before providing benefits to the climate.

These results align with an earlier paper published by EDF scientists in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), but reach these conclusions through updated and more detailed data, as well as analysis tackling a wider scope of vehicle sizes, engine technologies, and fuel types.

Pathway to Positive Climate Benefits

By examining a range of assumptions, the new study finds there are indeed pathways for heavy duty natural gas vehicles to achieve climate benefits, provided methane emissions across the value chain are reduced both upstream and at the vehicle level.

Improvements in fuel efficiency could help ensure these vehicles are climate friendly. Today’s natural gas truck engines are typically five to fifteen percent less efficient than diesel engines. Consuming more fuel for each mile traveled reduces the relative CO2 savings. If that efficiency gap can be closed, natural gas trucks will fare that much better compared to diesel.

Upcoming Policy Opportunities

While emissions in the natural gas value chain are a serious challenge, they also represent an opportunity to achieve significant, cost-effective reductions in overall greenhouse gas emissions. Several policy mechanisms are in play that could improve the climate prospects of natural gas trucks. These include recently announced federal upstream methane regulations and upcoming federal fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks.

More information is needed to estimate with confidence the current climate footprint of trucks, and to get a better understanding of methane loss along the natural gas value chain. Significant research is underway to update estimates of methane emissions across the U.S. natural gas system, including the ambitious scientific research effort to publish 16 field studies launched by EDF and its partners.

Advancing Understanding

The paper released today is distinct from this ongoing effort and does not use any data from those studies, but it serves complementary purposes: First, it emphasizes the importance of gathering more and better data on methane loss; second, one of its major contributions is the various “sensitivity analyses” it presents.

These ranges of potential results are designed to understand the implications of changing underlying assumptions about methane emissions and efficiency. Our new paper creates a framework to evaluate the climate impacts of a fuel switch to natural gas in the trucking sector as we gain better data on the magnitude and distribution of leakage and as both leakage and vehicle efficiency evolve due to policy changes and market dynamics.

Policymakers wishing to address climate change should use caution before promoting fuel switching to natural gas in the trucking sector until we are more certain about the magnitude of methane loss and have acted sufficiently to reduce emissions and improve natural gas engine efficiency.

For more detail on the paper released today, please see our Frequently Asked Questions.

Image Source: Flickr/TruckPR

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"Risky Business" stands out in growing sea of climate reports

This blog post was co-authored by Gernot Wagner and first published on EDF Voices.

Put Republican Hank Paulson, Independent Mike Bloomberg, and Democrat Tom Steyer together, and out comes one of the more unusual – and unusually impactful – climate reports.

This year alone has seen a couple of IPCC tomes, an entry by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment.

The latest, Risky Business, stands apart for a number of reasons, and it’s timely with the nation debating proposed, first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from nearly 500 power plants.

Tri-partisan coalition tackles climate change

The report is significant, first, because we have a tri-partisan group spanning George W. Bush’s treasury secretary Paulson, former mayor of New York Bloomberg, and environmentalist investor Steyer – all joining forces to get a message through.

That list of names alone should make one sit up and listen.

Last time a similar coalition came together was in the dog days of 2009, when Senators Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry were drafting the to-date last viable (and ultimately unsuccessful) Senate climate bill.

Global warming is hitting home

Next, Risky Business is important because it shows how climate change is hitting home. No real surprise there for anyone paying attention to globally rising temperatures, but the full report goes into much more granular details than most, focusing on impacts at county, state and regional levels.

Risky Business employs the latest econometric techniques to come up with numbers that should surprise even the most hardened climate hawks and wake up those still untouched by reality. Crop yield losses, for example, could go as high as 50 to 70 percent (!) in some Midwestern and Southern states, absent agricultural adaptation.

The report is also replete with references to heat strokes, sky-rocketing electricity demand for air conditioning, and major losses from damages to properties up and down our ever-receding coast lines.

Not precisely uplifting material, yet this report does a better job than most in laying it all out.

Financial markets can teach us a climate lesson

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Risky Business gets the framing exactly right: Climate change is replete with deep-seated risks and uncertainties.

In spite of all that we know about the science, there’s lots more that we don’t. And none of that means that climate change isn’t bad. As the report makes clear, what we don’t know could potentially be much worse.

Climate change, in the end, is all about risk management.

Few are better equipped to face up to that reality than the trio spearheading the effort; Paulson, Bloomberg and Steyer have made their careers (and fortunes) in the financial sector. In fact, as United States Treasury secretary between 2006 and 2009, Paulson was perhaps closest of anyone to the latest, global example of what happens when risks get ignored.

We cannot – must not – ignore risk when it comes to something as global as global warming. After all, for climate, much like for financial markets, it’s not over ‘til the fat tail zings.

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The Nuts and Bolts of California’s First Greenhouse Gas Auction

This article was originally posted at California Dream 2.0.


Following today’s California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) board meeting, the next major milestone in California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is on November 14th, when California will hold the first auction of carbon allowances for the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) cap-and-trade program. EDF has closely followed the steps CARB has taken to prepare, including participating in their successful “practice auction” this past August.  In order to shed some light on the nuts and bolts of how these auctions will work and the process going forward, we’ve put together an Auction FAQ factsheet to help answer some basic questions.

Why is CARB Auctioning CO2 Allowances?

In terms of allowance distribution, the AB32 program includes a combination of free allocation and auctioned allowances.  While it is the cap that ensures that the targeted quantity of emission reductions are achieved – regardless of the choice of type of allowance distribution – there are important differences between auctioning and free allocation relating to issues such as transaction costs, market power, price certainty, and distribution of allowance value.

Perhaps most importantly, auctioning allowances creates proceeds that can be invested in a variety of ways to further the goals of AB32 – for example, financing emission reduction projects in either capped or uncapped sectors, keeping energy prices down, or preparing for the impacts of global warming.  In addition, twenty-five percent of proceeds are actually required to be used in ways that benefit disadvantaged communities.

Another advantage of auctioning CO2 allowances is that it guarantees that all regulated entities have access to allowances on an equal footing. By holding an auction, California ensures that both large and small companies have access to allowances under the same terms, thus reducing the risk that the market becomes dominated by a few big players.

How the Auction Works

The California auction will be using a single-round, sealed-bid, uniform-price format. Under this format, companies submit confidential bids for a specific amount of allowances at specific prices (also called a bid schedule). The highest bidder is allocated their requested quantity of allowances first, then the second highest bidder, etc., until there are no more allowances.  Winning bidders receive the quantity of allowances they bid for at the uniform settlement price, which is determined as the value of the lowest winning bid – or more simply, the price at which the market clears. Regardless of their original bids, all winning bidders pay the same price. This auction format creates a clear market price, which is crucial for investors.

Using Auction Revenue to Further Emissions Reductions

There are abundant opportunities to invest the auction proceeds into sectors that deliver greenhouse gas reductions in California – from clean energy to clean transportation, energy storage and clean tech finance and investment. Not only do these investments further California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, they can also provide considerable economic benefits, as well as substantial health co-benefits, while helping set California’s path towards sustainable economic growth. To learn more about investing AB32 auction proceeds to grow California’s clean economy, read the EDF Invest to Grow report.

Auctions will play an important role in California’s cap-and-trade program; they encourage a more stable market and create proceeds that can be used to make California’s efforts to cut climate change pollution even more effective. For more details about how the auctions are designed, how the bidding process works and what to expect on November 14th, see EDF’s Auction FAQ factsheet and the California Air Resources Board’s website (here).

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All Systems Go for California’s Carbon Auction!

By Emily Reyna. This article was originally posted at California Dream 2.0.

Last Thursday, California took an important step towards finalizing a major component of the state’s effort to cut climate change pollution, an economy wide cap-and-trade regulation that establishes a price on carbon pollution.  Along with an expert from EDF’s economics team, Jonathan Camuzeaux, I had the opportunity to participate in the first ever public “practice” auction for the Global Warming Solutions Act cap-and-trade program – and it was a runaway success.

The goal of yesterday’s practice was to test the new online exchange where users will be able to bid on "carbon allowances" starting in November of this year.

EDF decided to submit the paperwork to be among the first users to test the new auction system since there is a lot riding on the cap-and-trade program working. Once fully operational, California’s cap-and-trade market will introduce the most cost-effective way to reduce climate pollution, protect public health, and spur clean tech innovation.

Here's how it worked:

During the practice auction we walked through a checklist of 33 tasks EDF designed to test the functionality of the system. What we found was that the auction system run by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) works much like other secure websites, such as that of an on-line bank or retailer.  Users sign in with a secure username and password and during the pre-determined open hours (bidding window), bidders place an order for as many emissions allowances as they want to buy, though only a certain number will actually be sold.  Bids from other organizations are rightfully kept private and hidden from view – making this a “sealed-bid” auction platform that is based on the system designed and currently in use in North America’s other cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in the Northeast.

During the bidding window, users were free to modify or rescind bids.  Once the bidding window closed all bids were final.  Since yesterday was only practice though, no money was actually exchanged or allowances sold once the bidding ended.

Our assessment:

From top to bottom, the AB 32 cap-and-trade auction system was easy and straightforward to use. Though we witnessed a few minor annoyances – such as being able to upload multiple bids at one time but only being able to delete one at a time – all of the market critical aspects were running well from our vantage point.  The next step will be for CARB to evaluate the bids and determine which are accepted and rejected based on the publically available market rules.

In all, after three hours of testing, our consensus is that the system works, and works well. California is ready to launch a new era of innovation, job creation, and economic stability. It is inspiring to see California taking climate action, and we believe success here will inspire other states, regions, and nations to develop similar climate programs.

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