California On Starting the First U.S. Carbon Market

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EPA's Gina McCarthy, Seventh Generation's Terry Tamminen, PG&E;'s Steven Kline receive Climate Champion awards from Climate Action Reserve. Photos by R.Cruger

"Across the world, all eyes are on California," was stated several times during North America's largest annual carbon conference this week in Los Angeles. It referred to the big timely news of the week, Governor Jerry Brown signing the AB 32 legislation requiring that 33% of energy come from renewable sources by 2020. At the event "Navigating the American Carbon World" government regulators, utility companies, nonprofits, and the world of investments, were excited about the introduction of a cap and trade program in the U.S. The EPA's Gina McCarthy got a standing ovation, stating, "The battle is being won. We will change the face of the world." The positive mood was not without some warnings.

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SoCal Department of Power and Gas, NASA, Carbon Offsets, NYSE Blue and more booths at Carbon Conference.

About California's clean energy and climate change law, and cap and trade program, speakers warned: "Get it right!" If it works, other states will follow and a groundswell will occur. Among the back-patting over California raising the bar on environmental standards, the consensus was that if the state implements a plan as effective as Europe's carbon market, then any claims that a clean energy economy is bad for business and "job killing" will be debunked. Despite suspicions about the schemes, most held it was best not centralized yet confident that the Feds will eventually come to the table.

The three-day event, organized by the Climate Action Reserve, an offsets program that verifies greenhouse gas emissions reduction projects, covered a range of climate change policies and despite the attention to the controversial cap and trade, successful "complementary" initiatives were highlighted. After keynotes addressing big picture issues, a dozen breakout sessions covered the nuts and bolts, from agriculture to renewables, and preparing for regulations and protocols.

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The Governator after addressing the carbon conference: "You're the action heroes."

With California being the world's 8th largest economy, as a sub-national government, it shows its influence in solving climate change effectively, from utilities building nine new solar projects in the Mojave Desert and the Tehachapi wind farms to the government installing the hydrogen corridor and using alt-fuel fleets. In a conversation with former governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Davis said "People say, 'Well, I don't like the noise of these wind farms, they're too loud. I don't like the glare of these solar panels, and I don't want a transmission line coming within 5 miles of my property.' Get real!"

The Governator said we can't be dependent on one fuel, "There is an abundance of clean energy in California, from wind, water and sun." Another green celebs who took the stage included Ed Begley, Jr., who challenged utility companies to offer free energy audits to customers, echoing the idea that conservation of resources is the first essential step in reducing energy consumption and it works.

Among the other speakers, Nancy Sutley of the White House Council on Environmental Quality talked of the creation of green jobs, Secretary Linda Adams of the California EPA spoke with Conservation International and others about the importance of including forestry in the state's cap and trade market--a first. The comprehensive discussions of climate change policies and programs saw the benefits of carbon as measurable waste yet held net zero energy as the target.

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Environmental Justice, Green For All, and USC discuss The Climate Gap of pollution's impact.

In one session, Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board referred to years of battling the automotive industry over California's emissions standards, which are now Federally mandated, and referred to litigation against cap-and-trade. This was addressed at the next panel, Pollution Impacts on Disadvantaged Communities, with Cecil Corgin-Mark of WeACT, explaining why the Environmental Justice organization is fighting market-driven programs that don't equally protect hot spots where the most vulnerable low-income and people of color are disproportionally exposed to pollutants. Manuel Pastor of the University of Southern California, who co-authored a report Minding the Climate Gap, recommended building in safeguards to the laws for these inequalities.

The understanding that it's too late for some places in the world which must now adapt to the effects of climate change was acknowledged. The aim of mitigating the impact was in the forefront of the agenda, while making it advantageous for corporations to clean up. For perspective, at the panel "International Forestry: The Great Green Hope," a woman from a nonprofit sitting next to me said she's signing up Californian municipalities for free energy audits to prepare for measuring reduction and encountering resistance in conservative communities, as well as from landowners. "I'm having to keep the word 'climate' out of the discussion."

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Liza Tucker of Sustainability Marketplace chats with Ed Begley Jr. and Jeffrey Horowitz: Can individuals make a difference?

The CEO of NYSE Blue said they're learning from the EU's carbon trading mistakes in avoiding fraud. Many companies are on board with the low-hanging fruit of changing lightbulbs and replacing windows that save money on energy, but significant financial incentives to green operations is what will help bring them into the carbon-constrained world of the future. Another woman I spoke with consults with firms on retrofitting fossil fuel plants to biomass such as switchgrass pellets, admitting sometimes it's not possible.

From geo-thermal to energy efficiency and clean fuel, carbon offsets to carbon markets, are all part of the next stage of what's termed the world's Green Race. With talk of a 50 percent reduction of the carbon footprint by 2050, Linda Adams of California's EPA asked, "Why not reach for 80 percent?" Perhaps rhetorical, but she knows that's what's necessary and as her predecessor Terry Tamminen said, "It will take silver buckshot not a silver bullet."

More on carbon markets:
Understanding Cap & Trade: The Infographic
Cap and Trade Works: Europe to Hit Kyoto Targets with Ease
Work-Based Carbon Trading Slashes Employee Emissions

California On Starting the First U.S. Carbon Market
"Across the world, all eyes are on California," was stated several times during North

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