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California Looks to Set a 100% Renewable Standard and to Tie its Carbon Market with China

In the wake of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accords, California is more determined than ever to reduce CO2 emissions. It has said that it would increase its use of renewables to 100% by 2045 while also trying to tie its cap-and-trade system to that of China’s emerging trading plan.

Both are bold goals that won’t come easy. But the overriding point that the state’s governor and its legislators are trying to make is that environmental progress — cutting CO2 releases — does not necessarily require the support of the president.

Specifically, Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has said he will raise the topic of merging California’s cap-and-trade program with that of China’s when it is developed. Its program is already linked to that of Quebec, Canada. Meantime, the California Senate passed a bill to set a renewable portfolio standard at 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2045.

“Transitioning to a 100% carbon-free future in an economy the size of California’s requires persistence, commitment, and vision,” Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director for California Solar Energy Industries Association said. The association “stands at the ready in creating the local jobs, carbon-free electricity, and grid reliability that comes with this cleaner future.” 

California wants to reduce  CO2 levels by 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels. Transitioning to renewables is one way. Using its existing cap-and-trade system is another, although that program needs to get reauthorized in 2020.

And by 2050, California hopes to have cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, which would not just make it an example for other states but also for other countries. In the end, it will be a job creator, say advocates. To get there, the state will also employ other strategies such as vehicle emissions limits, energy efficiency standards for buildings and renewable portfolio standards for utilities.

Cap-and-trade works like this: Governments set pollution limits and then credits are either auctioned or allocated to industry. Those companies that are able to exceed the expectations can either bank their allowances for future use or sell them to other businesses that are unable to meet their obligations. As the ceilings come down, overall emissions then fall.

“We want to make sure it has full integrity and know exactly what’s going on. And we can’t say that today,” Governor Brown told Reuters. ”Maybe we don’t put it right in the same cap-and-trade regime, maybe some parallel regime.”

California and Quebec have been working together though the so-called Western Climate Initiative. Quebec’s program got going earlier this year. The province has a goal of cutting its CO2 emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.

“We’re willing to be partners with whoever is going to take serious action on climate change,” Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told the Globe and Mail. “I’m going to keep making the case that there is a real economic opportunity that climate action brings, that we are creating good jobs right now in renewable, in clean energy, innovation and that’s what governments want.”

In the past, Republicans have favored using the states as the testing grounds for new ideas and even those that may run counter to what the central government is espousing. While California’s strategy to achieve carbon cuts is multifaceted, some parts of it — such as setting emissions standards on vehicles — would need federal approval.

As far as California connecting with China’s pending cap-and-trade program, well, that could be a different matter. For starters, the technical aspects may be hard to overcome. But it may also be unconstitutional: Section 10 of the US Constitution says: “No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws …”

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