California, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia have signed a new climate action agreement. The document commits the three states and province to work together towards common goals of reducing climate emissions.
THE GOOD: TAKING A STAND
In this season of climate denialism and xenophobia, taking a public stand for international climate action is itself a good thing. I personally appreciate the hard work that went into this.
THE GOOD: CLIMATE PRICING
The best part is right up front: “Account for the costs of carbon pollution in each jurisdiction.”
Oregon will build on existing programs to set a price on carbon
emissions. Washington will set binding limits on carbon
emissions and deploy market mechanisms to meet those
limits. British Columbia and California will maintain their existing carbon-pricing programs. Where possible, California,
British Columbia, Oregon and Washington will link programs for
consistency and predictability and to expand opportunities to grow
the region’s low-carbon economy.
Climate pricing is an essential tool; working to strengthen and link all four programs could create one of the world’s most powerful climate pricing jurisdictions (If CA, WA, BC and OR were an independent nation, it would have an economy larger than most G20 members).
THE BAD: DISASTROUSLY SLOW
The plan discusses “long-term reduction goals,” specifically addressing plans for 2050 reductions. But as the latest IPCC report makes abundantly clear, we don’t have that long: we have a world carbon budget to have a decent chance of staying within 2º warming, and it’s running out fast. At current emissions rates, we’ll use up our carbon budget in roughly 25 years. Even if we accept having only a 1/3 chance of staying within two degrees, our budget would only last another 8 years at current burn rates.
Every action plan must be a “big action now” plan or it’s just not going to work.
THE BAD: TRYING TO FIX CARS, NOT CITIES
The entire second part of the agreement focuses on “clean modes of transportation.” I’ve written extensively elsewhere about how transportation emissions are a subset of the design of cities, and the answer to the problem of CO2 emissions from transport is better cities. This is a widely-understood solution space.
Nonetheless, the new agreement focuses on alternative fuels, electric vehicles and high-speed rail, with no mention whatsoever of better planning. I’m in favor of those altfuels, EVs and HSR, but without a bold commitment to low-carbon planning and infrastructure investments by these governments, this approach will fail.
THE GOOD: ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND CLEAN ENERGY
The agreement calls on governments to “build a vibrant, growing regional market for energy efficiency products and services,” fast-track clean energy permits and better integrate the region’s electric grids. This is all good; so, too, is the focus on climate preparation for critical infrastructure.
THE BAD: ENERGY EFFICIENCY AS AN ADD-ON
The agreement does not talk about the need to transform the ways our systems use energy to deliver improved services for lower emissions. Indeed, no mention is made of urbanization as a demand-reduction strategy, passivhaus standards, green building retrofits, high-quality-low-consumption lives, dematerialization, sharing systems and so on. We need major cuts in energy demand: we can’t get them by simply strapping a few efficiency measures over status quo systems. http://grist.org/cities/why-clean-energy-isnt-enough-carbon-zero-chapter-2/.
THE WORST: NON-BINDING AND NON-SPECIFIC
I understand the political difficulties of creating a multi-jurisdictional international agreement. I also get the politics of dealing with powerful carbon lobbies and denialist astroturf. I get political realism.
Nonetheless, here’s what time it is: this should have been a binding agreement, setting carbon budgets and timelines for the whole West Coast, and leveraging the combined resources of these governments and their citizens to make those budgets achievable. That would be reality-based realism.
Thanks for reading!
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