Climate Pact: West Coast States, BC Vow to Step up Attack on Warming

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Late-summer sunset over San Francisco Bay. (Craig Miller)
Late-summer sunset over San Francisco Bay. (Craig Miller)

California has joined with Oregon, Washington and British Columbia in a new multi-pronged attack on climate change and its impacts. Describing it as a "small-but-powerful first step," California Governor Jerry Brown conceded that the newly-minted Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy won't by itself reverse the current long-term warming trend. But, he promised, "this will spread."

And while the pact has no binding legal authority on any of the parties, leaders of all four governments have agreed, in part, to:

- Put a price on carbon. California and BC have already done this, using a combination of carbon markets and taxes. California's year-old cap-and-trade program is part of a comprehensive plan set in motion by the state's landmark 2006 climate law.

- Synchronize their watches. The four will "harmonize 2050 targets for greenhouse gas reductions" and also seek a more definitive "mid-range" target for emissions cuts by 2030 or thereabout. California's current 2050 target is backed only by an executive order issued during the Schwarzenegger administration, not by legislation.

- Attack ocean acidification. The states and province say they'll "urge" their respective federal governments to "take action on ocean acidification," which scientists say is a threat to the marine food web.


- Green up transportation. Among the more specific goals is one to "work together toward" juicing the market for electric cars and other zero-emissions vehicles. In one of the few specific goals outlined by the basic agreement, the region is pledged to "take action" to transform the car market, so that by 2016, 10 percent of new car purchases are ZEVs (California's current goal is 15% by 2025). All have committed to some form of low-carbon standard for transportation fuels. California has one, though it is being challenged in the courts. The parties also pledge to "continue deployment of high-speed rail across the region."

The agreement also contains a five-point plan to boost renewable energy and modernize the electrical grid, along with the usual assertions to base policy on sound climate science and to continue the push toward a global climate agreement, something that the UN Framework has yet to achieve after two decades of talks.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee summed up the call to action succinctly, saying that, "While progress in Washington, DC is strangled by climate deniers, there is no denying the fact that the West Coast is rip-roarin' and ready to go." But that hasn't always been the case. Take the case of the ill-fated Western Climate Initiative, in which several states and provinces were to launch a unified carbon market. So far, only Quebec has committed (starting next year). British Columbia forged ahead with a carbon tax of its own while Oregon and Washington adopted a wait-and-see stance.