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Lost and Found in the American Carbon World

The Navigating the American Carbon World Conference, a three-day event (April 16-18th, 2013) in San Francisco, was jam-packed with workshops, meetings, offset credit offer info sessions, keynotes, plenaries, breakouts, and an exhibition hall featuring consulting services. I attended several pre-conference workshops to learn more about this complex and ever-evolving space.

I started at a workshop titled California Cap-and-Trade 101, billed as “an excellent primer for people starting to learn about the program and a comprehensive refresher course for people wanting to brush up on their cap-and-trade program knowledge.”

In 2001, California began the Climate Change Action Register (CARR), a voluntary reporting of greenhouse gas emissions based on the theory that you can’t cut what you can’t measure. In 2006, AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act replaced CARR with the Climate Action Reserve (CAR). AB 32, more importantly, set the lofty goal of returning to California’s 1990 GHG levels by 2020, leveraging a combination of complementary measures including cap-and-trade, improved energy efficiency standards, low carbon fuel standards (LCFS), the 33% renewables portfolio standard, and high global warming potential standards.  

California’s cap-and-trade system is now in place and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) held two recent sell-out auctions, cancelled March’s auction, and scheduled the next sale of credits/allotments for June 2013. At the February 2013 auction, a ton of CO2e in California was worth $13.62. California has in the past attempted, unsuccessfully, to form reduction alliances with other western states. The good news is that California and the Canadian Provence of Quebec have announced that they are working out the final details of linking their cap-and-trade efforts. Got all that? Good. One more important statistic - the transportation sector is the single largest GHG contributor in California at 40 percent.

Next on the syllabus were two workshops that dealt with an important contributor to both California’s and the planet’s GHG problem: forest degradation. Some facts: deforestation causes one fifth of total global CO2 emissions. One third of California, of the U.S., and of the terrestrial area of the planet is forested. So forests and their fate will play a critical role in our efforts to capture and store carbon to limit the effects of climate change and global warming. California’s cap-and-trade plan recognizes this fact; one of the four offsets that CARB includes/permits in its Early Action Offset Program is CAR’s Forest Project Protocol. Reforestation, improved forest management, and avoided conversion are the three types of forest projects that qualify. Forest offsets must be real, additional, verifiable, enforceable and permanent (must endure for 100 years).

I left the conference and stepped out in the bright sun on San Francisco’s busy Market Street. The rush hour traffic went on forever; thick and barely moving. There were few trees; no forests. California’s GHG challenge was everywhere I looked. Hopefully California’s cap-and trade effort will prove to be a vital “tool” in the GHG toolbox, reducing California’s GHG’s and helping to provide a template and linkages to other GHG reduction efforts around the world.

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