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.
Despite some modest steps forward, the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha was a reminder of the slow-paced nature of international negotiations. Annual conferences like these aim to achieve international agreement on reducing the man-made emissions causing climate change, but 20 years after the launch of the U.N. climate process, global emissions continue to rise.
Progress is being made at the domestic level, however, and in many cases, the policy of choice is emissions trading. One of the major challenges going forward is linking these emerging trading systems to achieve the efficiencies of an integrated global greenhouse gas market. The European Union and Australia have announced plans to link their trading systems, and California and Quebec are working toward linking theirs.