The Western Climate Initiative (WCI) is a regional effort to reduce emissions of climate change pollution. It is a timely topic for discussion, in part due to activity in Congress and by the Obama Administration. Closer to home, the recently released draft Biennial Report of California’s Climate Action Team reminds us of the risks to our state from human-induced climate change. Based on more than 40 peer-reviewed scientific studies, the potential impacts on our state resources, health, and economy are estimated to be in the many billions of dollars annually if no action is taken.
A global climate protection agreement is needed to reduce these risks. In the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32), the Governor and legislature acknowledged this need, and directed the state to work with states and nations to develop regional, national, and international greenhouse gas emission reduction programs. We can be proud as Californians that our state is a leader in these efforts – and the work with our WCI Partners is one aspect of this leadership.
The 11 WCI Partner jurisdictions (Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec) established a regional emission reduction goal of 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This goal is virtually identical to our state goal established in AB 32, which is to return to 1990 emission levels by 2020. As part of the policies recommended for reducing emissions, the WCI Partner jurisdictions designed a comprehensive cap-and-trade program similar to what is being proposed at the federal level.
Last week I participated on a panel at the Capitol that discussed the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), arranged at the request of Assembly Member Roger Neillo (R Sacramento), and moderated by Capitol Weekly’s Managing Editor John Howard. I described how the WCI work is one component of California’s plan to meet the requirements of AB 32. The WCI provides the foundation for California and each of the WCI Partner jurisdictions to link our cap-and-trade programs, thereby achieving maximum emission reductions at least cost throughout the region. California retains all authority and responsibility to adopt a program that meets the requirements of AB 32 and is best for California.
During the panel, WCI’s work was attacked with a familiar pattern of deceit and scare tactics. Rather than examine the program proposed by WCI, the opposition first suggested that the WCI recommendations include extreme requirements, and then expressed outrage at the program impacts. The opposition fabricated policies and positions that the WCI does not hold (e.g., prohibiting the use of emission offsets) and policies and positions having nothing to do with the WCI program (e.g., hiring tens of thousands of government employees).
The WCI Partner jurisdictions welcome third-party examination of the WCI program. No single analysis should be the sole basis for developing programs to reduce climate change pollution. While the WCI continues to improve its own analysis, we can report that the WCI assessment falls well within the range of analyses of similar programs performed by others using a wide range of assumptions and models. The result emerging from the body of work spanning more than a decade is that a well designed cap-and-trade program, with built-in compliance flexibility and cost containment, can reduce emissions and initiate the transition to a low-carbon economy with little overall impact on the economy – either positive or negative. Distributional impacts can be significant, however, and careful attention is required to ensure a fair distribution of costs and benefits. It is with these lessons in mind that the WCI put forth its program.
Finally, Assembly Member Neillo reminded us during the panel that not everyone agrees with the finding of scientists from around the world that human activities are causing climate change. To this I can only say that the WCI is not a scientific body passing judgment on climate science. Questions of climate science should be addressed to those who can speak to what the preponderance of evidence tells us about the risks we face. An objective reading of the reports from the scientific literature, in my view, compels us to act. With AB 32 the Governor and legislature provided the framework: the debate we deserve is how best to act.