Lonely Road for Cap and Trade

California is the lab rat in the cap & trade maze

(Photo: Craig Miller)

One day after the midterm congressional elections, President Obama was already talking about cap & trade in the past tense: “Cap & trade was just one way of skinning the cat. It’s not the only way,” the President told reporters. “It was a means, not an end. And I’m gonna be looking for other means to address this problem. Senator Joe Lieberman put it more bluntly. “Cap and trade is off the table,” Lieberman said. “We have to start on the presumption that the table is clean, that nothing is on it.”

But while Washington is “looking for other means” to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming, the table is set for cap & trade in California. By day’s end Thursday, the state will likely have the nation’s first system that covers more than electric utilities. Continue reading

Cancun Postscript: Leadership Key For Climate Progress

In this guest post: Some reflections on the recently concluded UN climate talks  from Louis Blumberg, who heads the California Climate Change Team for The Nature Conservancy.

Cancun provided glimmers of what could be if nations put their minds to it

By Louis Blumberg

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico – I stood up – every one stood up – and applauded loudly for three minutes – twice!  Patricia Espinosa, President of the UN Climate Change Conference walked into the cavernous hall Friday night, calmly took her place at the head table and the place went wild.  The 1500+ people (it could have been 2500) spontaneously gave her a standing ovation and there were still about six  more hours of work to come.

Joining colleagues from the Nature Conservancy and about 9,000 others from 194 countries, we were in Cancun to shape the foundation of what could become a comprehensive, legally binding treaty to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius and avoid major climate disruption.  Last year’s effort in Copenhagen had provided little success and expectations for Cancun were low.  However after two weeks of talks, a balanced package of decisions was reached for a few key issues – like the role of preventing deforestation – and set the stage for completion of the treaty next year in South Africa, potentially. Continue reading

Poll: Californians Still Support Cap-and-Trade

A new poll shows Californians holding firm to their support of California’s climate strategy, including cap-and-trade provisions likely to be approved next week. The poll accompanies a sheaf of new studies commissioned by the pro-clean-tech think tank known as Next 10.

(Photo: Craig Miller)

The Field poll of about 500 Californians, taken right before Thanksgiving, shows two-thirds (66%) of respondents still favor (either “strongly” or “somewhat”) the 2006 climate law known as AB 32, including the cap-and-trade provisions (64%). About one in four oppose both.

The studies released with the poll point to an economic anticlimax under the cap & trade regulations of AB 32, with net benefits in the long-term. One of the lead investigators, David Roland-Holst, calls it a “small ripple in a giant teapot,” the teapot representing the massive California economy. A “synthesis of the findings” released by Next 10 shows a “very small” impact on the state’s economy, and “very small” changes in retail electricity rates. It also concludes that so-called “leakage” — the regulation-induced exodus of business from California is “likely to be small.” That’s not to say there are no losers. “We’ve got to be honest and say there will be trade-offs,” said Roland-Holst. Continue reading

Chu Tones it Down for Cancun

Energy Secretary takes the cautious route in Cancun; just part of the sideshow at COP16.

US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu appeared to pull some punches while speaking at the US Center in Cancun on Monday. (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

The UN climate negotiations in Cancun may be the official attraction, but in many ways, there’s just as much happening at the “side events” here at COP16.  There are dozens everyday — last week there were more than 150, and that number is increasing this week as more people arrive for the final days of the talks.  While the negotiations are limited to representatives from national governments, the side events provide a stage for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists, business leaders, and local and regional government officials, many of them, it turns out, from California. Continue reading

Rich and Poor Collide in Cancun

Contrasts and bus connections in Cancun provide a metaphor for the climate talks going on there.

COP16 attendees waiting in line for the UN bus (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

For a conference aimed at lowering the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, COP16 sure looks like it has big carbon footprint.  Just the air travel alone for the thousands of people coming to Cancun from literally all over the world is a huge source of emissions.  But once you get here, the excess emissions continue.  Cancun’s hotel zone is one long line of huge beachfront resorts boasting luxury accommodations, all-you-can-eat buffets, and — in the case of my hotel — giant jacuzzi tubs in every bedroom, despite the sign on the bathroom sink suggesting that guests remember to conserve water.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), there isn’t really time for taking baths in enormous tubs, because attendees must spend so much time on the road.  Special UN buses are shuttling people back and forth between the Hotel Zone and the negotiations constantly, commutes made more arduous and carbon-intensive by the added miles and long circuitous routes the buses have to make due to security.  Most of the hotels are located north of the negotiations, but security to attend them is located to the south. Therefore, attendees must first travel south, then north (up the same road) to get into the conference.   A common conversation on the buses is wistfully recalling how wonderful it was at COP15 last year, when attendees could simply take public transit (or walk through the streets of Copenhagen) to reach the talks.

At least the long intervals spent standing in line at bus stops provide a chance to warm up in the hot sun and recover from the Arctic conditions inside the conference centers.  Despite the fact that attendees were encouraged to “dress down” this year: traditional Mexican shirts for men and cotton dresses for women, so that the venues could save emissions with less air conditioning, many of us are wearing jackets and sweaters inside the venues.

One journalist described this year’s conference to me as “an island within an island.”  Military blockades have closed roads at various points, diverting local traffic.  Because of the geography, it would be very easy for people to come to COP16 and never actually see the town of Cancun, which, is a far cry from the Hotel Zone.  There’s a sharp divide between rich and poor here, with the opulence of these resorts just a few miles from abject poverty — which may be a fitting metaphor for the climate talks themselves.

Rich nations and poor ones are, in many ways, lined up on opposite sides of a fence as they sort out how to level the field.  Last year, as part of the Copenhagen Accord, a coalition of developed nations, including the United States, agreed to provide funding to help developing nations deal with climate change: $30 billion by 2012 and $100 billion by 2020. A major issue at this conference is working out how to allocate this money. While much of that money has been pledged, much of it has yet to materialize.

While the United States is moving forward with building and solidifying the Copenhagen Accord, according to chief negotiator Johnathan Pershing, some people (and nations) are concerned that this path will not be enough to stop the Earth from warming to dangerous levels. Even UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, who heads the UN climate effort, said on Monday that if all the emissions-reduction promises made in the Copenhagen Accord were delivered, the world would be on track for warming more than the two degrees Celsius that the accord was designed to meet.

On Tuesday night I attended a community prayer vigil in downtown Cancun.  There were about 200 local people from different denominations, including Pentecostals and Catholics, gathered to sing songs and say prayers for the Earth.  Victor Menotti, head of the California-based International Forum on Globalization described the Copenhagen Accord as a path to “collective suicide.”

“The Copenhagen Accord doesn’t get us what we need in terms of emissions reductions, financing, and technology transfer,” he said. “All it is, is a collection of voluntary pledges that don’t add up.”

Climate News that Went By in a Blur

Some of the week’s energy, climate, and emissions developments in California, that may have been overshadowed by other news:

Largest Solar-Thermal Project Breaks Ground
Officials broke ground on the first large-scale solar-thermal plant to be built in the United States in 20 years. BrightSource Energy says its $2 billion, 10,000-MW Ivanpah project, located in the Mojave Desert, will be the largest solar thermal project in the world.  (More from KQED’s The California Report and The New York Times)

Prop. 23 Funding
Opponents of Proposition 23 have contributed three times as much money to the campaign as those in favor of the measure that would suspend California’s climate change legislation.  As of October 29, the “No” campaign had raised more than $30 million, while the “Yes” campaign had raised just over $10 million, mostly from out-of-state oil refiners Valero and Tesoro.  (More from maplight.org, and to see where across the US the money is coming from, check out Climate Watch‘s interactive map that tracks the major funders.) Continue reading

Air Board Likely to Give Away Most Carbon Permits

California’s greenhouse gas regulators may ease the pain for companies under an evolving cap-and-trade plan.

Photo: Craig Miller

A staff report issued today by the state’s Air Resources Board provides the first details of how a state-run cap-and-trade program would work. As regulators had warned in recent months, it appears that most emissions permits will be given away, at least initially. Environmental groups had been pressing for a “100% auction,” making industry pay for all allowances.

But Jamie Fine, an economist with the Environmental Defense Fund in Sacramento,  says it’s not that straightforward. Fine interprets documents released today to mean that most allowances would be given away to begin with, but by 2015, with the gradual expansion of the program, more than half of the permits would be auctioned off. Continue reading

The Carbon Footprint of Divorce in China

Couples often remain unhappily married for the sake of the kids. Now they might consider it for the sake of the planet.

Chinese households are outpacing the population by three-to-four times.

Jianguo (Jack) Liu, who directs the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University, has been tracking an interesting driver of carbon emissions in China: the explosion of households.

Speaking at the Society of Environmental Journalists‘ annual conference at the University of Montana, Liu said the number of households in China has been growing three-to-four times as fast as the population, which, in turn, is fueling a domestic boom in energy-intensive consumer goods, such as autos, air conditioners and major appliances (though one third of China’s carbon emissions are still due to products made for the export market, with the largest share bound for the US). Continue reading

Prop 23: The View from Valero

Carbon dioxide is “not pollution,” say engineers for the nation’s biggest refiner.

Listen to Rachael Myrow’s radio feature on The California Report.

Valero's Benicia refinery in Solano County. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Last week, as the campaign rhetoric for and against Proposition 23 was heating up, The California Report host Rachael Myrow and I spent an afternoon with three of Valero’s environmental specialists at the company’s refinery in Benicia, up the Sacramento River from San Francisco Bay. They briefed us on the refining process in some detail and drove us around the 400-acre refinery site, near the Carquinez Strait in Solano County.
Continue reading

Reported Miscues at the Air Board

Today the California Air Resources Board announced proposed changes to the state’s “off-road” diesel regulation.  Adopted in 2007 the rules affect approximately 150,000 construction, mining, and airport support vehicles.   The proposed new rules delay the start of the regulation until 2014 (rather than 2010), increase the number of exempted vehicles, and relax some requirements.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the revisions come after the Air Board staff admitted to miscalculations that led to the original regulation.  According to the Chronicle, regulators overestimated emissions from off-road diesel vehicles by 340% in a scientific analysis used to set the 2007 rule.