California marks first anniversary of cap-and-trade

In the year since California launched the nation’s largest greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program, the state has proven that climate change action can be led by states and can even spread across national borders.

Under a cap-and-trade system, companies must hold enough emission allowances to cover their emissions, and are free to buy and sell allowances on the open market. Since California held its first auction of carbon allowance credits on Nov. 14, 2012, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has auctioned roughly 64.4 million allowances valued at $780 million. Through the smooth operation of its auctions and sales of 100 percent of 2013 allowances to date, California has demonstrated its capacity to successfully administer a cap-and-trade program.

California does not have the first emissions trading program in the United States, although it’s certainly the most ambitious. The multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was the pioneer, but California’s cap-and-trade program is more substantial due both to the size of state’s economy and the number of sectors covered. By 2015, California’s program will expand to be about twice as large as RGGI.

Warsaw talks: A mid-point for 2015 agreement

Negotiations toward a new global climate agreement reach a mid-point next month in Warsaw.  And while countries have begun putting forward some concrete ideas about the kind of pact they want, the more immediate question is the process they’ll use to get to a final agreement in Paris in 2015. They’re planning an important game of show-and-tell between now and then, and need to agree on the terms.

The current round of talks was kicked off two years in Durban, South Africa, when parties set a 2015 deadline for a new agreement that will have “legal force” and be “applicable to all.”

Heading into November’s COP 19 – the 19th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – very sharp divides remain, particularly over perennial issues such as the differentiation of commitments between developed and developing countries.

But as I describe in a recent article in Nature, there is growing convergence among many parties on a new approach with both “top-down” and “bottom-up” elements. In this emerging model, countries would define their own individual commitments, and agree on a common set of rules to compare them and track their implementation.

Slow progress on limiting HFCs

Those encouraged by the recent high-level pronouncements by President Obama and China's President Xi at the G-20 favoring action to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol came away from the 25th Meeting of the Parties last week in Bangkok disappointed. 

A number of developing countries led by India blocked efforts to establish a formal “contact group,” an important step toward negotiating an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs, which are highly potent greenhouse gases.

Instead, the parties opted to continue exploring the issue in a less formal “discussion” group. They also asked their Technical and Economic Advisory Panel (TEAP) to prepare a report on the technical, legal, and financial management of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, and agreed to hold a workshop on HFCs in the margins of the next negotiating session in 2014.

Sandy Anniversary is a Reminder of the Need for Better Protections

A year after Hurricane Sandy, more work remains to be done to help families and communities fully recover. But another pressing need, not only for those who were in Sandy’s wake but for all of us, is to learn from the storm’s devastating impacts and reduce the risk of future damage and loss of life.

Hurricane Sandy's estimated $65 billion in damages make it the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina.

Building resilience to the impacts of major coastal storms like Sandy—and to other types of extreme weather that are becoming more intense and frequent as a result of climate change—will require a commitment to better protect infrastructure and implement  policies to help get people out of harm’s way. Both efforts should take into account how future sea level rise can amplify storm surges, potentially making future impacts greater than what we’ve experienced in the past.

States will need coordination, creativity to meet electric vehicle goal

Eight states have given a big boost to zero emission vehicles by agreeing to support putting 3.3 million on the road by 2025. California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont together account for about a quarter of the auto market, so their commitment is significant. 

To reach their goal, these states will need to learn what policies and actions are most effective at driving sales of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs), starting with electric cars.

Two early lessons are evident from our ongoing work in this area: Stakeholder coordination is critical, and creative policy solutions are needed. The memorandum of understanding the governors signed last week will foster an environment for both.