Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Californians (& their carbon market) help keep the beat at Durban

I don't know the US climate change envoy Todd Stern, but I'd guess he's had a tough couple of weeks in Durban at COP17.
I don't know the US climate change envoy Todd Stern, but I'd guess he's had a tough couple of weeks in Durban at COP17.

When an ex-Governator shows up at COP-17 in Durban, is that a celebrity sighting, or is he just another policy wonk?

Well, nobody's seen Schwarzenegger yet. But even as the United States, China and India engage in baller blocking a climate-policy deal at Durban, California's current political luminaries are making their presence known in South Africa.

In theory, the United Nations' Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change has been breathlessly awaiting Arnold Schwarzenegger for more than a week now. And sure, California Senator Barbara Boxer didn't go, but she sent people with press releases to talk to the rest of the world about what remains the hottest mainstream topic in climate change policy in the Untied States: whether or not climate deniers have a point. KPCC's Kitty Felde rightly covered that as a political story; this message isn't meant for convention delegates:

The message I have for climate deniers is this:  you are endangering human kind.  It is time for climate deniers to face reality, because the body of evidence is overwhelming and the world’s leading scientists agree. 

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has recently confirmed once again: climate change is real, human activities are the primary cause, and the warming planet poses a significant risk to people and the environment.

Wishing that climate change will go away by clinging to a tiny minority view is not a policy – it is a fantasy.  Problems do not go away by pretending they do not exist...

But real stuff is happening. California's current Air Resources Board chair, Mary Nichols, IS in Durban. In a conversation with Forbes, Nichols noted that the state accoutns for 2 percent of carbon emissions globally; she said, [T]here’s a lot of work to be done, and California is at the center of it." 

Nichols also made a presentation about the state's mandatory carbon market, the one that's starting up in 2013. That market presents opportunities for forest carbon deals, through projects sometimes characterized as REDD: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. And some COP17 observers say California's market, along with a similar one in Australia, are offering enough momentum to keep international climate policy on its feet. 

Regardless of policy positions, it gives me a little kick when California's government made its presence known at the COPs in Poznan, Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban. 'Specially when our US envoy in Durban, Todd Stern, is reduced to sounding like this about the possibility for a deal when even China's making offers. "We would be quite open to a discussion about a process that would lead to a negotiation for the thing, whatever it turns out to be, that follows 2020, and we are also fully willing to recognize that that might be a legal agreement." (So impenetrable!)

Sure, in California we have people who argue that making policy about climate change is stupid; at the same time, the Golden State also has mandates making the reduction of climate impacts a state priority. We're not going to see a big deal at the big UN conference. But California's presence at Durban underscores the fact that its decisions matter to the world.