In-depth


California extends emissions trading scheme

John Dyer
26 July 2017 | updated 27 July 2017

California has voted in favour of extending its cap-and-trade programme from 2020 to 2030. The state’s Democratic governor Jerry Brown received bipartisan support from trade unions, the oil industry and Republicans, including ex-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Boston. California is continuing its role as the vanguard of local efforts in the United States to push back against President Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the Paris Climate Accord goals.

Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a law at an event on Tuesday to extend his state’s cap-and-trade program to 2030. It had been due to expire in 2020. Attending the San Francisco event was former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who first approved the program in 2006.

“California is leading the world in dealing with the principal existential threat that humanity faces,” Brown said. “What could be a more glorious undertaking?”

Bipartisan support

A system where factories and other polluting businesses can purchase permits sold by less-polluting firms on an exchange, cap and trade is taken for granted in Europe. But the only cap-and-trade system in the US is in California, which would be the sixth-largest economy if it were an independent country.  

Schwarzenegger noted that eight Republican lawmakers voted in favour of extending the cap-and-trade programme. Only one Republican voted for it in 2006 – the legislation passed by that single vote at the time – suggesting the issue has become more bipartisan in the Golden State in the intervening years.

Schwarzenegger slams Trump

The Austrian-born former film actor and bodybuilder slammed Trump, who pulled the US out of the Paris agreement in June. Trump said the deal’s goal of reducing greenhouse gases unfairly forces American businesses to curb emissions while allowing developing countries to continue to pollute at higher levels. Proponents of the Paris accords argue that they are designed to give poorer countries more time to grow before curbing their emissions.  

“America did not drop out of the Paris agreement. America is fully in the Paris agreement,” said Schwarzenegger. “The states and the cities in America, the private sector, the academic sector, the scientists – everyone is still in the Paris agreement. There’s only one man that dropped out. But America did not drop out.”

Local efforts making progress

California, New York, Massachusetts and a host of other, usually Democratic-dominated states as well as major corporations from Silicon Valley to the energy sector in Texas have enacted climate change provisions in the hope of achieving the Paris goals without the federal government’s help.

Local efforts have already made progress. Since 2005, the US has decreased carbon emissions by around 14 per cent as natural gas-powered plants have replaced coal-fired facilities and tax incentives have boosted solar and wind power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

California leading the way

Through a package of laws, industry agreements and rules for state spending and workers, California aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. It is now estimated to be emitting carbon at 1990 levels.

Under the Paris pact signed by ex-President Barack Obama, the US pledged to reduce carbon emissions by as much as 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 – a lesser amount that California.

“You can think of California as a giant laboratory for climate action,” said University of California at Berkeley Business Professor Severin Borenstein.

Innovative technologies needed

The director of Stanford University’s Center for Energy Policy and Finance, Dan Reiber, warned that California would need to work harder to reach its ambitious goals, however. “Each additional increment of carbon reduction is tougher than the previous one,” he said. “California will have to reach deeper into the bag of technologies.”

The state is pushing for more solar, wind and other power to generate electricity, making it easier to drive electric cars, mandating tougher efficiency laws for new buildings and infrastructure and capturing more methane from garbage dumps and farms.

“Stop lying to the people”

Those efforts would be easier if the federal government were working with the state rather than against it, said Schwarzenegger.

The former Republican governor blasted Republicans who control Congress and work in Trump’s cabinet, including U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general and oil industry friend who has waffled over whether climate change is real or whether it’s a hoax peddled by Chinese spin masters who seek to steal American manufacturing jobs.

“Don’t those conservative Republicans get the message? And can’t they just think about it for a second and say, ‘Maybe we should stop lying to the people?’” Schwarzenegger said. “Stop lying to the people. Stop it.”