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EU Lesson for CA: Don’t Give Away the Store

Advice from Europe for California’s cap-and-trade captains

As California lurches toward what would be the nation’s most comprehensive carbon trading program, I got an interesting perspective from the world’s largest, the European Union. “California is one of the states that is actually moving forward in the US,” EU Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told me in a one-on-one interview this week. “And we know in Europe that sometimes when California starts to do something, that it’s the start of something that will end up being the American way of doing things.”

Connie Hedegaard directs climate action for the EU. (Photo: European Union)

Hedegaard, who is the EU’s Commissioner for Climate Action, cited California’s leadership in regulating tailpipe emissions, among others, though when it comes to cap-and-trade for carbon, it’s unclear who will be following. Certainly Congress is in no mood, and the regional trading scheme known as the Western Climate Initiative has been severely stunted.

Citing recent estimates that five years of carbon trading in Europe has lowered total greenhouse gas emissions by less than one percent, I asked her if she considers that a success. “Yes, I do,” replied Hedegaard. She countered with her own figures that while US emissions had continued to rise between 1990 and 2009, those in Europe had fallen 16%. “So we’re doing something right,” she said (again, EU carbon trading only began in 2005). “Of course when you’re building a complex system like that, those who do it first, in the first couple of years, have a lot of lessons learned.” Continue reading