California’s cap and trade program leads the way on US climate action
In recent weeks, California has continued to cement its leadership role in American climate policy – most recently at the COP23 climate conference in Bonn, Germany. In partnership with other states, cities, indigenous communities, businesses and investors, faith organizations, and numerous other institutions, California has led the U.S. “We Are Still In” coalition representing more than 130 million Americans and more than $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy.
California Governor Jerry Brown recently announced plans to boost technical and political cooperation on carbon markets with the leaders of the EU and China. This announcement follows enormous legislative progress, compromise, and policy innovation in recent years in California to provide long-term certainty and stability to California’s cap and trade program and broader climate policy regime. This legislative progress includes:
- SB 350, which strengthens energy efficiency standards for buildings and increases California’s renewable portfolio standard to 50% by 2030
- SB 32, which legislatively reiterates and extends previous emissions goals to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030
- AB 398, which legislatively extends the cap and trade program to 2030
AB 398 – the extension of cap and trade through 2030 – is an enormous boon to one of the world’s most effective, large-scale, economy-wide carbon pricing regimes, and an important fortification of California’s climate policy infrastructure.
Prior to the extension, cap and trade revenues were used for high-speed rail and numerous other climate finance projects throughout the state, with 25% of revenues specifically earmarked to support projects in disadvantaged communities. However, California Air Resources Board (CARB) allowance auctions in early 2017 reflected legal and policy uncertainty about the future of cap and trade, and failed to sell out.
The passage of AB 398, with a legislative supermajority, puts to rest past concerns about legal challenges from the fossil fuel industry on the basis of California’s Proposition 13 or Proposition 26 rules regarding new taxes or fees. This decisive victory for carbon-pricing prompted record-breaking sellouts of allowances in the recent August and November auctions, totaling close to $2 billion in revenue generated, sold at clearing prices well above the price floor in both auctions. Analysis from Energy Innovation suggests that the cap and trade extension will generate at least an additional $1.3 billion in revenue for the Greenhous Gas Reduction Fund between now and 2020, and an additional $26 billion in new revenue from 2021-2030.
To achieve this level of support, AB 398 involved key compromises on compliance measures and on how revenues are spent, to assuage concerns from both environmental justice advocates and from traditional industry opponents of cap and trade policy. The key agreements of AB 398 are:
- It increases the allocation for local climate finance for investments in disadvantaged communities to 35%.
- It decreases the fraction of compliance that can come from offsets.
- A companion measure AB 617 increases regulation of local air quality to prevent pollution hotspots in vulnerable communities.
- And statewide ballot measure ACA1 goes before voters in 2018 proposing a constitutional amendment that would set a higher (two-thirds) legislative threshold for how future cap and trade revenues are spent.
California’s cap and trade extension is not a panacea, and no legislation in an economy and a political landscape as large and complex as California can be perfect. Future challenges to reaching 2030 goals (like allowance oversupply) remain. And California’s climate policy regime will have to remain dynamic and innovative in order to continue to lead, and to make good on stated goals.
But the extension of California’s cap and trade program remains an important legislative step forward, giving markets the stability they need to function while achieving success in pursuit of aggressive emissions reductions.
Climate Policy Initiative’s California Carbon Dashboard continues to provide the latest news, prices, and information to understand California’s cap and trade program and suite of climate policies. You can learn more at www.calcarbondash.org.