Climate 411

As Washington state sets the rules for its ambitious climate program, regulators shouldn’t overlook this policy tool

This post was co-authored by Natalie Hurd, Western states climate policy intern at EDF.

Landscape of Washington state

Photo Credit: George Dodd for Getty Images

Washington state is on the cusp of finalizing the rules to launch its ambitious new climate policy. This comes at an important moment of opportunity for states to lean into their climate commitments and increase their ambition. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act will drive an unprecedented level of investment in fighting climate change and building a clean energy future, making it even easier for states like Washington to meet their climate goals. By enacting ambitious cap-and-invest legislation last year, Washington has taken an important step forward — but now it’s up to regulators to deliver the strongest possible cap-and-invest program.

The Climate Commitment Act (CCA) pairs carbon emission reductions with new tools to tackle local air quality disparities — all in the same policy framework. One of the valuable tools included in the cap-and-invest legislation is an emissions containment reserve (ECR) — a mechanism that guards against long-term uncertainty by ensuring that the program will be made more ambitious if prices for the program become lower than expected. Right now, Washington’s Department of Ecology is making decisions about the details of how to implement the program, including whether or not to include a functional ECR, and EDF has made it clear that Washington should include a well-designed, effective ECR in the state’s cap-and-invest program. Regulators once again have the opportunity to lead the way on the West Coast by including a functioning ECR in Washington’s program design.

What is an emissions containment reserve?

An ECR is a design feature for cap-and-invest programs that was first implemented by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state climate program on the East Coast. The primary role of an ECR is to ensure that, when demand for emissions allowances decreases, the overall supply of allowances is reduced. By reducing the supply, the ECR reduces the overall amount of climate pollution allowed under the program. In other words, allowances are reserved from the market and unable to be purchased, to make sure that the overall allowance budget is adjusted so that emissions are further contained. The amount of allowances that can be removed from the supply and placed in the ECR is relatively small ー for example, in RGGI, the size of the ECR is up to 10% of the allowance budget of participating states.

A figure describing how an ECR functions

Figure 1: Overview of an ECR (Adapted from Resources for the Future)

An ECR is activated when the allowance price hits a “trigger price”, which is a set price that would reflect lower-than-expected demand for allowances. In an auction, if demand for allowances is relatively low, the price of allowances at auction will decrease. If the price of allowances decreases enough to reach the ECR’s trigger price, then a predetermined number of allowances will be removed from the overall allowance supply available at the auction. By reducing the supply of allowances when the trigger price is reached, an ECR translates lower demand and lower prices into greater climate ambition.

One reason why demand for emissions allowances and allowance prices might drop, thus requiring the intervention of an ECR, is if regulated entities are able to cut emissions more quickly than expected.. For example, if a policy like a Clean Fuels Standard reduced emissions more swiftly than anticipated, then the entities impacted by that policy would have lower emissions and therefore require fewer emissions allowances than expected. An ECR helps create a supply for emissions allowances that is responsive to how demand for emissions allowances changes over time.

What does Washington’s program currently do?

Despite the added stability and climate ambition that an ECR would bring to Washington’s cap-and-invest program, as imagined in the Climate Commitment Act, the current proposed design for Washington’s program is missing a critical ingredient: an ECR trigger price. Without a trigger price, there is no way for the ECR to be activated, meaning that Washington’s proposed program does not include a functional ECR.

Why should Washington include a functional ECR in their program?

Economic modeling has shown that including an ECR in an emissions market improves performance by making the market more efficient and securing additional emissions reductions. On top of these benefits, an ECR would help ensure that a program like Washington’s will keep running smoothly long-term. For one, the inclusion of a functional ECR can reduce price volatility in the long run, which decreases uncertainty for market participants. Stable market expectations are important to the durability of the program. Cap-and-invest in the state is more likely to be successful going forward if market participants can better anticipate market behavior year-to-year and plan accordingly. In addition, an ECR provides a predictable, rule-based approach for supply adjustments, helping to avoid the need for other less predictable adjustments to supply by the Department of Ecology to keep Washington on track to meet its climate goals.

Finally, an ECR can increase the environmental ambition of the program by reducing the overall supply of allowances if demand for allowances falls, thereby reducing the total climate pollution that can be emitted by regulated entities. This is critical because Washington’s cap-and-invest program serves as a backstop, working alongside a suite of programs and investments that will help drive emissions reductions. As these programs and investments interact, it’s essential that the cap-and-invest program’s overall limit on emissions remains ambitious enough to incentivize continued efforts to address climate change, and an ECR can help do this by reducing the supply of allowances when demand for allowances is low.

Implications for linking with other carbon markets

In addition to enhanced environmental integrity and economic stability, a functional ECR with a trigger price may be an important factor in potential future program linkage between Washington and other carbon markets. Program linkage — or connecting carbon pricing systems across borders — can facilitate quicker reductions in emissions regionally. By establishing an ECR, Washington would set an important precedent for other states, as well as provide a strong example of climate policy. The ECR program design has already spread from its initial inception in RGGI, and Washington now has an opportunity to be a leader for states on the West Coast.

Market-based mechanisms to reduce climate emissions are not the only policies that need to be implemented to address the climate crisis, but they are a critical part of a suite of climate solutions, including sectoral strategies to deliver near-term reductions in climate pollution. In addition to maintaining the strength of its cap-and-invest system, it’s crucial that policymakers in Washington and elsewhere work meaningfully with communities to ensure that these policies are designed and rolled out in an equitable and just way, explicitly addressing the disproportionate burden of pollution that is primarily borne by low-income communities and communities of color. While cap-and-invest programs are only part of the solution, making them as strong and as stable as possible — such as with the implementation of an effective ECR with a trigger price — will help facilitate more ambitious and broad climate action for decades to come.

During the comment period for Ecology’s latest CCA rulemaking, EDF made it clear that Ecology should include a functional ECR with a trigger price in the final rules. Including a trigger price would help the program’s ECR function properly while driving greater reductions in climate pollution when prices are low. By building a strong ECR into its cap-and-invest program, Washington can continue to lead the way with effective, ambitious climate action that’s a model for other carbon markets.

Also posted in Carbon Markets, Cities and states, Climate Change Legislation, Economics, Energy, News / Comments are closed

With one week to act, California needs to pass these policies to drive climate progress and protect communities

This post was co-authored by Caroline Jones, Analyst for U.S. Climate

photo of a wind farm in a western landscape

Photo Credit: Pixabay

The heat is on in Sacramento.

With less than a week left in the California State Legislature’s session (which ends on August 31), a set of potentially game-changing climate policies are on the table. Earlier this month, Governor Newsom released a series of proposals for the legislature, including a more ambitious goal for cutting climate pollution by 2030, codifying a carbon neutrality goal, interim clean electricity targets, safeguards from the health impacts caused by oil and gas drilling and providing direction on the use of carbon capture and sequestration — all of which are now being negotiated in Sacramento.

This push arrives amid a grueling year for climate change-fueled impacts across the state, with wildfires, heat waves and the worst megadrought the West has seen in over 1,000 years all underscoring the urgency for bold action. And with the new, massive down payment on climate and clean energy through the Inflation Reduction Act, California will have even more tools and investments available to drive down climate pollution further and faster.

Here are the key policies that can drive meaningful climate progress and protect communities — and need to pass the finish line by the end of the session.

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Also posted in California, Cities and states, News / Read 1 Response

9 recommendations for getting US hydrogen hubs right from the start

This post was co-authored by Akin Olumoroti, Senior Analyst, Federal Climate Innovation

Photo of hydrogen tanks at sunrise

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Over the last year, hydrogen has gained significant momentum as a pathway to reduce pollution, create jobs and drive economic growth. Billions of dollars of private sector investment and tax credit support have been announced, and hydrogen build-out is already ramping up.

Earlier this summer, the Department of Energy (DOE) outlined its process for allocating $8 billion of investment for regional clean hydrogen hubs (i.e., close-proximity networks of clean hydrogen producers, consumers and connective infrastructure) from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and states and companies across the country are actively developing project plans and proposals.

But before we go all-in on deploying hydrogen, it’s essential we understand – and prepare for – its potential risks. EDF has been conducting research around the environmental and climate impacts of hydrogen and has identified several key considerations, including the indirect climate warming potential of hydrogen leakage, the steep energy requirements associated with hydrogen production, and the impacts that hydrogen build-out may have on local communities’ health and environment.

These considerations will be critical to apply as hydrogen hub planning gets underway, so that we not only support hydrogen deployment – but dedicate just as much energy to getting it right.

As hydrogen hub proposals come together, here are nine initial recommendations for federal and state policymakers and hydrogen hub developers to follow:

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Also posted in Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Innovation, News / Comments are closed

The Inflation Reduction Act: A breakthrough for lower energy costs and climate progress

This post was authored by EDF policy experts.clean energy

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin on July 27 announced the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 — an agreement that will improve Americans’ lives by fighting inflation, lowering healthcare costs, and making significant down payments on energy security and climate progress.

If passed by both the Senate and the House, this bill will be the largest investment in combating climate change ever passed by Congress — driving down carbon pollution 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. This will bring the U.S. substantially closer to President Biden’s goal of cutting climate pollution in half by 2030 and return the U.S. to a leadership role in the global fight against climate change.

These fiscally responsible investments will create good-paying clean energy and manufacturing jobs and boost U.S. energy security — all while saving families and businesses money. The bill also makes a historic down payment on environmental justice.

While the bill does contain some trade-offs, taken together, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will greatly benefit our economy and our climate fight – now and for generations to come. Here are the key investments you should know and why they matter.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Innovation / Read 2 Responses

Carbon Markets Can Drive Revenue, Ambition for Tropical Forest Countries, New Studies Show

This post was co-authored by Pedro Martins Barata, Senior Climate Director, and Julia Paltseva, Senior Analyst, Natural Climate Solutions.

Aerial view down onto vibrant green forest canopy with leafy foliage. Source: Getty Images

Global climate mitigation requires rapid action to protect ecosystems, particularly Earth’s tropical forests. Once ecosystems are lost, wide-scale restoration takes time. Recognizing the importance and urgency of taking action to protect intact forests, more than 100 global leaders, representing nations that account for 85% of global forests, pledged at COP26 to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

We know that tropical forest jurisdictions which have implemented results-based payment programs on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation have been successful at reducing deforestation while bringing co-benefits and buy-in from Indigenous and local forest communities. These programs need to be scaled up to meet the urgency of the climate crisis. Carbon markets are one promising means to do so.

Now two new studies suggest that tropical forest jurisdictions that engage in emissions trading for conserving their forests at large scales could generate significant revenues, and promote more ambitious, but attainable, climate goals.

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Also posted in Carbon Markets, Forest protection, Indigenous People, International, News, Paris Agreement, REDD+ / Comments are closed

Markets, stocktake, and impacts: The three issues to watch at the UN climate talks in Bonn

This post was co-authored by Julia Ilhardt, High Meadows Fellow at Environmental Defense Fund

Opening Plenary of Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), 2019 climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany. UNclimatechange via Flickr.

Next week, climate negotiators will begin two weeks of meetings in Bonn, Germany to make progress on a full slate of issues—from carbon markets and finance to adaptation and loss and damage—before November’s global climate talks.

At these mid-year negotiating sessions, negotiators will continue to elaborate rules for international carbon markets, kick off dialogues on the global stocktake, and start work on critical processes to address the impacts of the climate crisis, among other things. They will build on the work completed at COP26 in Glasgow last year, and the results will give us an indication of what the upcoming COP27 negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt will look like.

1. Elaborate rules needed to “operationalize” international carbon markets

At COP26 in Glasgow—after six years of difficult, technical negotiations—countries delivered a strong Paris Agreement rulebook for international cooperation through carbon markets. These rules will give countries the tools they need for environmental integrity and ultimately clear a path to get private capital flowing to developing countries.

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Also posted in Carbon Markets, International, Paris Agreement, United Nations / Comments are closed