Gov. Jerry Brown had encouraging words for world leaders at the United Nations climate summit. They were no doubt a comfort, given the decades of international dithering on climate change.
Embedded in the governor’s two sets of remarks, however, was also a message to Californians in the thick of their own war on global warming.
“The great challenge is to stay the course,” Brown told the assemblage.
In other words: Pay no attention to the anti-cap-and-trade rumblings of the fossil-fuel forces, California. Don’t back down. Stick with me.
We’re glad the governor is optimistic, and we hope his optimism is warranted. But we have reservations.
The U.N. summit was arguably more symbol than substance. Leaders widely regarded it as a preamble to international negotiations next year in Paris. China, which now leads the world in CO2 emissions, and India didn’t even bother to show up.
The gathering did, however, spotlight the potential for subnational players, like California. And here, in the past couple of years, there has been serious momentum.
The state’s cap-and-trade program, which requires companies that pollute to buy permits at auctions, is expected to raise some $832 million this year for programs to help curb greenhouse gases. Those who are reducing those gases – such as dairy farmers who are turning manure into methane then turning that into electricity – get to sell their credits.
That pot is expected to grow into the billions next year, when vehicle fuels are brought into the system. That is expected to increase gas prices, some say by a dime others by up to 40 cents.
The money raised from selling the credits will fund more green-friendly programs. And that could have national impact due of the sheer size of California’s market. Others will help clean the air in impoverished neighborhoods that have breathed freeway exhaust for generations. Combined, the efforts are aimed at bringing emissions below 1990 levels by the end of the decade, and lowering them by another 80 percent by 2050.
Whether cap-and-trade will work remains to be seen – the proof will be in the cap part, as we gauge whether the mitigation it pays for actually puts a sufficient dent in emissions. Meanwhile, rural areas of the state will pay a larger share of the costs simply because we use more gasoline. For better or worse, it’s a start.
Brown has thrown the force of his credibility behind it. He has forged nonbinding agreements with other states, Mexico and China, and last week, the administration announced California and Quebec will have a first-ever joint cap-and-trade auction in November.
Even as Brown spoke in New York, the oil industry was seeding the airways with ads to keep vehicle fuels out of the cap-and-trade system. And oil is just one powerful, entrenched interest.
The California Chamber of Commerce has sued, charging cap and trade is tantamount to illegal taxation. And other initiatives – calls for greener building codes at the local level that could make a huge cumulative difference, for instance – are bound to generate costs and resistance among property owners, developers and landlords.
So even here, even amid ravaging heat, drought and wildfire, action on climate change requires an uphill fight. It remains a “great challenge,” as the governor put it.
Regardless, Californians are going to need resolve and deeper pockets. The sea level is rising, the Sierra is burning and the clock is ticking.