The U.S.A. took a step towards becoming a leader in addressing climate change on September 27th, when California’s Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law (pdf) the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, also known as AB 32. The law requires the state of CA to cap its greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The state estimates this will result in a 25% greenhouse gas reduction by 2020. While the law requires no more than this, Gov. Schwarzenegger intends to push CA to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
California now joins several other U.S. states that have already committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The six New England states (RI, CT, ME, MA, NH, VT) and the eastern Canadian provinces agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, and then to further reduce emissions 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. Although neither as specific nor finalized, they also intend reduce their climate change emissions more dramatically in the long-term, which they currently estimate will amount to between 75% and 85% below current levels.
Another inter-state initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — signed by 7 Northeastern states (CT, DE, ME, NH, NJ, NY, CT). This initiative will cap power plant CO2 emissions by 2009, and will reduce them by 10% by 2019.
Several other states, like Arizona and New Mexico are also aiming to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
How do all these exciting new initiatives compare with Kyoto Protocol goals? Kyoto calls upon the U.S.A. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 7% below 1990 levels by 2012. Unfortunately, none of the state programs mentioned above would fulfill Kyoto standards. California’s laudable plan will only bring it back to 1990 levels by 2020. The Northeastern states’ plan, however, comes closer to Kyoto goals, bringing them back to 1990 levels by 2010 and commencing reductions below 1990 levels thereafter. Nevertheless, Kyoto itself is often considered more of a symbolic treaty than one that would really solve a future climate crisis. To that end, California and the Northeastern states’ long-term intentions could be quite substaintial if indeed realized in due time.
Most of these initiatives, including California’s, employ a cap-and-trade market-based approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This generally means that greenhouse gas emitters that reduce their emissions beyond the requirement will receive credits which they can sell to emitters who do not meet their reduction goals. It remains to be seen whether or not these U.S. market approaches will spawn the same controversies associated with Kyoto’s use of carbon sinks to receive credits and Clean Development Mechanism in which developed nations can receive reduction credits without actually reducing their own emissions, but rather by financing renewable, sustainable, energy efficiency programs in developing nations.