China is calling Canada’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol “regrettable” and says it goes against the efforts of the international community. Canada’s move comes days after climate-change negotiators met to hammer-out a global deal in Durban, South Africa.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin expressed China’s dismay at the news that Canada had pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol.
He says the timing is particularly bad, because negotiators at the just-concluded Durban conference made what he described as important progress on the issue of the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period.
Liu says Canada’s move goes against the efforts of the international community and is regrettable. He says Beijing hopes Canada will face up to its obligations, honor its commitments and actively participate in international efforts to fight climate change.
Canada Monday announced that it is pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty hammered out in 1997 that calls for major industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The accord recognizes China as a developing country and so does not impose mandated emissions reduction targets on Beijing.
China and the United States are the world’s two biggest emitters of carbon gases that many scientists say exacerbate global warming.
Liu indicated that Ottawa’s decision will not affect Beijing’s actions.
He says China has been actively participating in the international effort against climate change and made what he describes as “utmost efforts” for the Durban meeting’s success. He says this will continue in the future.
The Chinese negotiator at Durban, Xie Zhenhua, says he is concerned that developed nations are reluctant to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, which many scientists say exacerbate global warming. He also called on developed countries to provide financial and technical aid to help developing nations fight against and cope with the effects of climate change.
Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief, has been hailed the hero of the Durban meeting that reached an unexpectedly solid outcome in the early hours of Sunday .
“She is very, very good and we are very lucky to have her,” says Chris Huhne, the UK energy and climate change secretary. “She held everything together in a very impressive manner – a class act.”
Hedegaard, below, once the youngest person elected to the Danish parliament, was the architect of the EU plan to gather developed and developing economies together for the first time in a legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. A deal was struck that met nearly all of the EU’s aims, satisfied most developing countries and even brought the US on board.
In doing so, Hedegaard saved the UN process of negotiations, which without a deal at Durban would have fallen apart. Hedegaard’s manoeuvring also forced China to acknowledge that it will take on commitments on an equal legal footing to developed countries.
“You could hear the shifting of tectonic plates,” said one diplomat. “This is hugely important not just for the climate talks but in geopolitical terms.”
Key to her success was the hardline attitude Hedegaard adopted. Developing countries, including China, have long insisted that the 1997 Kyoto protocol should be extended when its current targets run out in 2012. EU member states are virtually the only countries willing to do so. But while some member states wanted to offer the extension as a matter of course, Hedegaard had other ideas – it would only be agreed if developing countries also signed up to her roadmap.
That would entail committing to curb emissions on the same legally binding footing as the rich world, as an acknowledgement that the distinctions between developed and emerging economies have changed since 1997, when the Kyoto protocol was drawn up. This also made it possible for the US to join in, because America had insisted it will only join up to any agreement on the basis of such legal parity.Hedegaard knows about negotiations failing – as Denmark’s environment minister since 2004, she was the host and president of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.
There she witnessed, excruciatingly, at firsthand the embarrassment of the EU at the hands of the US and the BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China — when President Obama took his counterparts behind the scenes to forge a deal on emissions that left out the EU. European and UN officials were left visibly flummoxed as Obama announced his deal to the media. That deal was instantly denounced as weak, because countries had not agreed that it was legally enforceable, and the summit ended in scenes of chaos and acrimony.
Durban was Hedegaard’s chance to raise a new phoenix from the ashes of the Copenhagen conflagration. And she was determined to do so.
At stake was the whole process of United Nations climate negotiations. The Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997 by all countries, including the US. But the Clinton administration was unable to put it put before Congress because opposition to it was so strong. Since then, the UN talks have been in trouble. Without the active participation of the US – now the second biggest emitter – they could not succeed.
Hedegaard’s roadmap was crafted in the back offices of the European commission, and she embarked on private meetings with ministers in big and small countries. In October, she had it rubber-stamped by the EU member states.
Despite the battering she received in the conference – from Indian and Chinese ministers, who attacked the EU for trying to strongarm them — she held her nerve. Up to the last moment, negotiators for other countries were briefing that the EU would cave in, and concede that an agreement was not possible. But in the final minutes, the EU agreed a phrase that it said would ensure future commitments were binding. – they would take the form of “an agreed outcome with legal force”.
Negotiators at the U.N. climate conference in South Africa have approved a package of agreements to combat global climate change.
While the deal is a step forward, observers say more should have been accomplished.
After hours of political wrangling and compromise on all sides, delegates emerged from an all-night session Sunday with a way forward on climate change.
Going into the last-minute negotiations, the South African president of the conference, Maite Nkoana Mashabane told delegates the package of deals would not please everyone.
“I think we all realize they’re not perfect, but we should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good and the possible,” he said.
Among the biggest achievements was the approval of a European Union plan to negotiate a future legal deal to combat climate change.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard lobbied fiercely for the so-called EU “roadmap,” saying, “We are on the brink, it is within our reach to get what the world is waiting for and what only few thought would happen now: a legally binding deal,” said Hedegaard.
The agreement calls for parties to end negotiations on a future pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 and to implement the new regime no later than 2020.
Emotions ran high in the middle-of-the-night plenary session about plans for the future agreement.
Karl Hood of Grenada, representing a coalition of small island states took issue with the language in the draft text, which did not specify what legal form the agreement would take.
“And if there is no legal instrument by which we can make countries responsible for their actions then, Madame Chair, I’m saying that we are relegating vulnerable economies to the whims and fancies of beautiful words like ‘self-determination’ like ‘access to development’; while they develop, we die in the process,” said Hood.
The future deal will replace the Kyoto Protocol – an existing legal framework that was enacted in 2007 and was due to expire next year.
Governments that are part of Kyoto, including the EU, agreed in Durban to a second commitment period to the protocol that will last five to eight years, though Russia, Japan and Canada have said they will not take part.
The conference did not produce any immediate promises to further cut emissions blamed for climate change.
Tim Gore, the climate policy advisor for Oxfam, said developing countries will not benefit much from the deals passed here in Durban.
“They didn’t get a great deal out of this, I think this was largely an agreement which was struck between the big boys, between the U.S., the European Union, perhaps some of the emergency economies did a deal on a future legal agreement, and that’s significant, but it hasn’t necessarily delivered the action that the very poorest countries, and the poorest people within them, need here and now,” said Gore.
Parties also agreed in Durban to put into operation a Green Climate Fund, which is to provide assistance to developing nations for environmental projects. However, there was no agreement on how to actually finance the Fund, so, for the time being it remains an empty shell.
Some of these issues will likely be addressed again at the U.N. climate conference next year in Qatar.
Time is running out for a major deal to tackle climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in South Africa, and observers say the world’s biggest emitters are continuing to hold up progress on a new agreement to cut emissions.
Delegates at COP17 are continuing to work on details of a European Union proposal toward a new global commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The so-called EU “roadmap” would set a deadline for a new deal to be agreed to by 2015 and to be implemented by 2020.
With few hours left to negotiate, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said compromises must be reached.
“If there is no further movement from what I have seen until four o’clock this morning, then I must say I don’t think there will be a deal in Durban,” said Hedegaard.
But, she added, all hope is not lost.
“Now it’s not the first time in a COP that [by] Thursday night you’d not have the deal,” she said. “So that is why I emphasize there still is time to move and I must say there have been a lot of constructive talks.”
The European Union issued a joint statement with a grouping of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Association of Small Island States, supporting the European roadmap and calling for more ambitious action from other countries.
Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said development and similar statements from other countries are encouraging, but that more ambition is needed.
“Everything seems possible today, but it’s not done. We have a lot more work to get done,” he said. “But it’s on the table [and] we’ve seen movement. The developments I talked about with the small island state coalition and the LDCs and the movements from South Africa and Brazil are encouraging, but without the U.S., China and India, they’re not enough.”
The EU has indicated that the world’s three biggest polluters, China, India and the United States, have been slowing down the pace of negotiations on a roadmap to a future agreement.
Hedegaard said the major sticking points are what legal form the final agreement would take and whether there will be a two-track arrangement so that some countries are legally bound while others commit to voluntary emissions cuts.
Other negotiations are continuing on a proposal to provide $100 billion in long-term financing to developing nations for environmental projects. So far delegates have only begun sorting out the terms of the deal, with no reported progress on how to actually finance it.
As the first week of negotiations at the U.N. climate change conference in South Africa comes to a close, the European Union says support is growing for a new legally-binding agreement to cut emissions. But the United States and other countries remain strongly opposed to the idea.
EU negotiators are urging other parties at the COP17 climate talks in Durban to agree to a “roadmap” that would lead to a climate treaty that would legally bind governments to cut emissions blamed for climate change.
The Polish head of the EU delegation, Tomasz Chruszczow, said there is growing support for such a measure.
“Many parties see that the goal of keeping the global warming within the limits, within two degrees, requires urgent action,” said Chruszczow.” And extreme weather events on the ground and that warning contained in the recent spate of reports from international institutions and organizations made it very hard to escape this kind of conclusion.”
The EU proposal would follow the current legal framework established under the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire next year. The EU wants the parties at COP17 to agree to establish a new treaty by 2015 that would go into effect by 2020.
Recent reports support the EU’s argument that further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, are necessary to keep global temperatures from increasing to dangerous levels.
The International Energy Agency has warned that the world has about five years left to significantly cut carbon emissions in order to prevent irreversible climate change.
The European Union is trying to convince developing countries to sign on to such an agreement.
EU negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger noted the EU’s success with the current program, saying the EU’s emissions have dropped below 1990 levels while overall, the continent’s economy has continued to grow.
“Because a lot of fear that is in this process is about ‘I can either fight climate change or I can grow my economy,’ but we can show, and that’s a big example here, that we can do both at the same time,” he said.
The United States did not adopt the Kyoto Protocol, and U.S. climate negotiators have said they will not support a legal mandate to cut emissions without knowing the details of such an agreement.
Commenting on the EU’s proposed roadmap, U.S. deputy climate change envoy Jonathan Pershing said it would have to bind all parties equally.
“We’re not looking for a mechanism in which we would have an obligation to reduce emissions of a legal form and the major emerging economies would have a voluntary program,” said Pershing. “That’s kind of the Kyoto structure. We are not a party to Kyoto, in no small measure, because of that constraint.”
The United States has argued that the voluntary emissions reductions that governments agreed to at the last climate conference in Cancun, Mexico are unlikely to change over the coming years.
The U.S. has been trying to start discussions, instead, on what can be done after 2020.
By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News
South African President Jacob Zuma: Climate change is “a matter of life and death”
Canada will not make further cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, and may begin formally withdrawing next month.
Though not a surprise, the news will anger poor countries that say the rich are reneging on pledges made 14 years ago when the protocol was signed.
They see the protocol as the only way to make emission cuts legally binding.
Also on the first day of the UN climate summit in South Africa, the UK was criticised over support for tar sands.
In the main conference hall, delegates heard South African President Jacob Zuma call for meaningful progress.
“For most people in the developing world and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death,” he said.
“In these talks, states, parties will need to look beyond their national interests to find a global solution for the common good and benefit of all humanity.”
Continue reading the main story
The consequence for some of the islands will be extinction”
End Quote Selwyn Hart Aosis
The very differing interpretations of “national interests” did not take long to surface.
Canada declared four years ago that it did not intend to meet its existing Kyoto Protocol commitment – to bring annual emissions in the period 2008-12 down by 6% from their 1990 level.
They have in fact risen by about one-third since 1990.
And just a few hours after talks began in the Durban conference hall, Canadian environment minister Peter Kent was confirming to reporters in the capital Ottawa that its involvement with Kyoto was over.
“We will not make a second commitment to Kyoto,” he said. “We don’t need a binding convention.”
Tar sands exploitation comes at a heavy environmental cost, locally as well as globally
Since the election of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2006, Canada has sought to align its stance with its most important trading partner, the US.
It fears that its economy would suffer if it took on stronger curbs than its southern neighbour.
Canadian network CTV reported that the government would begin formally withdrawing from the protocol next month.
Mr Kent declined to comment.
But with 12 months notice needed to withdraw, and the current set of targets expiring at the end of next year, the timescale for a formal secession would make sense and would then put Canada in the same bracket formally as the US, which withdrew under President George W Bush.
Russia and Japan have also said they will not make further emission cuts under the protocol, though it is not known whether they plan formally to withdraw.
In Durban, the US deputy climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing said he did not see existing pledges on curbing emissions by 2020 changing.
“The idea that countries would change their current pledges that they listed in the Cancun agreements [from last year's summit in Mexico] seems unlikely to me,” he told reporters.
“I don’t see the major economies shifting those actions.”
At a meeting of the Major Economies Forum (MEF) earlier this month – the body that brings together 17 of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters – India and Brazil joined the US in wanting to delay beginning talks on a new global climate agreement until at least 2015.
The EU and many smaller developing states want to reach agreement in Durban on starting talks pretty much immediately, reaching agreement by 2015 and cutting emissions by 2020.
Reports by numerous organisations, most recently the International Energy Agency, have concluded that in order to meet the goal of keeping global average temperature rise since pre-industrial times below 2C, emissions should peak and begin to fall around 2020, if not earlier.
The current pledges to which Mr Pershing referred will not achieve this.
Speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), Barbadian delegate Selwyn Hart said his group was not prepared to contemplate delay.
Continue reading the main story
“At the heart of any agreement should be the principle that no country is expendable,” he said.
“It’s morally and ethically indefensible to sign an agreement that will result in the demise of a single nation state. The consequence for some of the islands will be extinction.”
The UK, meanwhile, received one of the unwanted “Fossil of the Day” awards from a coalition of campaign groups.
They were angered by reports, deriving from a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the Co-operative, that the UK has been lobbying to weaken EU rules on oil from Canadian tar sands.
Extracting oil from the tar deposits that spread across Canada’s prairie provinces is much more energy-intensive than conventional oil drilling, and also uses huge amounts of water.
Some climate scientists say exploiting the reserves is simply incompatible with curbing global warming.
Representatives from nearly 200 nations are gathering in Durban, South Africa for an annual United Nations conference on climate change. And while most parties agree on the need to tackle the issue, there remain vast disagreements over the methods.
One of the most pressing issues at the 17th annual Conference of Parties, known as COP17, is what to do with the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol.
This was a legally-binding pact between nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least five percent below 1990 levels.
The landmark 1997 agreement also established mechanisms allowing rich countries to offset their own pollution by investing in cleaner technology in poor nations.
A major topic of discussion at COP17 will be whether to sign on for a second commitment period.
Christina Figueres, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, says delegates are looking for a middle ground.
“Our sense is that there is enough awareness that this is the year to make that decision. They have actually, over the past six months, governments have come to the realization that this is not a yes or no answer.”
The other options to extending the Kyoto Protocol are agreements made at the last two climate conferences in Copenhagen, Denmark and then last year in Cancun, Mexico.
There, countries agreed to new strategies to promote clean energy, including a $100 billion-a-year fund for developing nations and non-binding emissions limits.
Figueres says those measures still fall short.
“While those are efforts that go way beyond the Kyoto Protocol emissions reductions, they are insufficient,” she said. “It is only 60 percent of the emission reductions needed to keep the increase of temperature to below two degrees Centigrade.”
Scientists have warned for years of the possible dangers of allowing average global temperatures to rise two degrees above pre-industrial levels. After that point, the Earth is at greater risk of floods, droughts and the loss of critical life systems.
Scientists blame carbon emissions as the leading cause of man-made global warming. So, it will be no surprise if all eyes at COP17 are on the United States and China – the world’s two biggest polluters.
The United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and has insisted that any legally binding agreement include all parties.
The top U.S. negotiator, Todd Sterns, denied that the U.S. is involved in a stalemate with China to act first.
“But I’ve also said with respect to a potential future legal regime, we wouldn’t do it if all the major economies weren’t also a part of it in quite a full way, so in that sense we would need to see that action from others,” said Stern. “But I don’t think it’s that kind of – where we’re waiting for China and China, well I can’t tell you whether China is waiting for us or not, I can only speak for the United States, but I really don’t see it that way.”
The United States does support the agreements finalized at COP16 in Cancun. Even though the terms are not legally binding, Stern says “nobody takes it lightly.”
Environmentalists are worried about the global consequences if countries cannot reach an agreement in Durban.
Ferrial Adam, the climate campaigner for Greenpeace Africa, says the United States, and it’s reluctance to commit to emissions cuts, is a major obstacle.
“We’re quite sure we’re not going to achieve major agreements or a binding deal as we’d like to see,” said Adam. “And that’s very concerning because climate change is not going to wait for COP 18 or 19 or 20. These decisions need to be made now because the impacts of climate change are upon us.”
Adam added that governments need to “listen to the people more than the polluters.”
And there will be lots of people at the Durban conference, which opens Monday and runs for 12 days. According to the U.N., more than 24,000 people took part in the Copenhagen conference last year, including more than 3,000 members of the media.
Environmental groups and non-governmental-organizations will be sending thousands of observers to watch over the negotiations in Durban.
Do not be alarmed if your aircraft begins to smell suspiciously like a fast food restaurant – or pond scum for that matter.
US airlines were racing this week to demonstrate their clean energy credentials, scheduling a number of flights partially powered by biofuels.
First United Continental announced the departure on Monday morning of Flight 1403 from Houston for Chicago – or the Eco Skies test flight as the airline called it – using a mix of 60% conventional jet fuel and 40% algae-based fuels.
Then Alaska Airlines announced it would operate 75 flights using a mix of 80% conventional jet fuels and 20% biofuels starting on Wednesday. Instead of algae-base, the airline is using used cooking oil or fast-food restaurant throw-aways, said Robert Ames, vice-president of Dynamic Fuels, which produced the fuel.
“We can use vegetable oil. We can use used cooking oil,” he said. “A good mental reference is McDonald’s used fryer grease.”
The flights will include 11 between Seattle and Washington DC, and 64 between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, the airline said.
“We wanted to demonstrate the use of sustainable biofuels both on a transcontinental route and on a short haul that competes with ground vehicle traffic,” Bobbie Egan, a spokeswoman for Alaska, said in an interview.
The airline calculates that the use of the biofuels mix cuts greenhouse gas emissions on those particular flights by 10%.
It’s not clear however when – or even if – Alaska will begin running regular flights on biofuels.
The cooking oil substitute cost six times as much as conventional jet fuel, said Egan. That makes a permanent switch prohibitively expensive – unless production increases and prices come down.
Dynamic Fuels, a joint venture between Tyson Foods Inc, the world leader in chicken, beef and pork production, and Syntroleum Corporation, is the only producer of this type of fuel in North America. The plant has been operating just over a year, and has an annual capacity of 75m gallons.
Ames would not discuss current prices, but he said he was hopeful that prices would eventually come down.
“There is enough used cooking oil,” he said. “Are we shutting down Saudi Arabia? The answer clearly is no. In America, we like our fast food but we really don’t have those kinds of quantities available.”
Monday’s flights were not exactly historic. Virgin Atlantic first began trying out biofuels three years ago, and KLM tested a 50-50 blend of conventional fuel and used cooking oil on its Paris-Amsterdam route last June.
The US airforce, meanwhile, plans to test 40 of its aircraft on a biofuels blend by 2013.
But the flights could encourage the rest of the industry move towards cleaner fuels.
Following Monday’s flight, Solazyme said on its Facebook page it hoped to sell as much as 20m gallons of biofuel a year beginning in 2014.
“Sustainable biofuels, produced on a large scale at an economically viable price, can one day play a meaningful role in powering everyone’s trip on an airline,” United’s chief operating officer, Pete McDonald, said in a statement.
Egan said meanwhile she hoped that Alaska’s move would encourage other biofuels suppliers to get into the market, bringing costs down.
The test flights are also a sharp contrast to threats of a trade war by the US aviation industry to moves by European airports to charge carriers for greenhouse gas emissions.
Many activists view the decision on the pipeline as a crucial test of President Obama’s green credentials
Thousands of protesters opposed to a controversial pipeline project surrounded the White House on Sunday.
Canadian company TransCanada is seeking permission to build the 1,600-mile (2,700km) Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf coast in Texas.
Environmentalists are opposed to the project because of the method used for extracting petroleum from Alberta’s oil sands.
They are also concerned by the risk of pollution on the pipeline route.
The proposed pipeline would pass south from Alberta through the US states of Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma before ending up at refineries in Texas.
Environmental groups say that extracting oil from the sands would generate huge greenhouse gas emissions, and that any accident on the route could be disastrous.
The protesters formed a human chain around the White House, with some carrying an inflatable replica of a pipeline on their shoulders.
Bill McKibben, one of the protest organisers, described the scene as either “a big O-shaped hug” or “a symbolic house arrest,” according to the AP news agency.
“We have to leave the tar sands oil in the ground. That’s the only solution if we are going to save the planet,” protester Martin Springhetti told AP.
Canada’s northern Alberta contains massive petroleum reserves
TransCanada said the protesters were ignoring the jobs the pipeline would create.
“What these millionaire actors and professional activists do not seem to understand is that saying no to Keystone means saying yes to more conflict oil from the Middle East and Venezuela filling American gas tanks,” said TransCanada spokesman James Millar.
The US State Department is handling public consultations on the project as the pipeline would cross the border with Canada, but the White House has made clear President Obama will influence the final outcome.
The decision as to whether to allow the project is fraught with political risk for Mr Obama, reports the BBC’s Zoe Conway in Washington.
If he rejects it, he could be accused of destroying jobs. But allowing it to go ahead could lose him the support of activists who helped propel him to the White House.
Some predict that the decision will be delayed until after next year’s presidential election.
Last week the State Department indicated it might not reach a decision on whether to issue a permit for the pipeline by the end of 2011, as was originally planned.
Nebraska governor Dave Heineman said on Monday he will call a special session of the state legislature over TransCanada’s proposed $7bn oil sands pipeline that would cross ecologically sensitive areas.
Heineman wants TransCanada to change the route of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline away from Nebraska’s Sand Hills region, which sits atop the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest sources of water for farms in the central United States. He does not oppose the pipeline outright.
“I believe Nebraskans are expecting our best efforts to determine if alternatives exist,” Heineman said in a statement.
He has urged Barack Obama and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to deny a presidential permit for the line until the route is changed.
If Nebraska succeeds in changing the route for the pipeline, it could delay the project.
The session in Nebraska’s only legislative chamber will determine whether the state can determine the siting of pipelines within its borders. It will start on 1 November.
The pipeline would take oil sands crude from Alberta to Gulf coast refineries, and potentially to its ports for export.
Supporters say the line would provide thousands of jobs and increase oil imports from a friendly neighbor. Opponents say oil sands crude causes more greenhouse gas emissions and that the petroleum is more corrosive to pipelines than average crude oil.
Last week, Mike Flood, speaker of the state legislature, advised against a measure that would force TransCanada to move the right-of-way from the Sand Hills, saying such a move would unlikely hold up in court.
Heineman worked with Flood to set the starting date for the session.
TransCanada has said it is too late in the federal approval process to move the proposed path for the line. “The pipeline takes the safest route – physically and environmentally,” said Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada.
The US State Department hopes to decide whether to greenlight the 700,000-barrels-per-day or more pipeline by the end of this year.
California was expected to give final approval on Thursday to North America’s first mandatory cap-and-trade emissions scheme, delivering an important win for environmentalists after a season of defeat.
After a day of scheduled public hearings, the California Air Resources Board was due to vote on Thursday afternoon on the adoption of an emissions trading scheme.
“This is the final yes: we are going to move forward with California,” said Gary Gero, president of the Climate Action Reserve, a voluntary registry.
The decision was seen to be significant because California accounts for about 13% of the world economy, and the state has a history of being the leader on environmental initiatives.
“California can drive national action,” Gero said.
The decision comes at a time when Republican leaders in the rest of the US are denying the existence of man-made climate change.
In Washington, a Republican-controlled Congress is cutting budgets and rolling back environmental protections.
Meanwhile, a number of states have defected from regional – and voluntary – carbon trading systems.
But environmental organisations argue that California’s example could force a rethink. They say a carbon cap will increase the amount of clean tech investment already flowing into California.
Even though California is bucking the national trend, Thursday’s vote still comes after protracted legal and political battles – from industry as well as environmental organisations, which complained the programme was too soft on oil and energy companies.
The establishment of a cap-and-trade scheme is seen as an important step towards reaching California’s ambitious climate change goals.
The state has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with an 80% cut in emissions by 2050.
The cap-and-trade scheme, which covers emissions from about 600 sources, mainly electricity companies and oil refineries, will produce a relatively small share of those reductions – about 20% – at least over the next few years.
Officially, the programme will begin operating in 2012. However, the caps will not go into effect until 2013.
In the initial years, most of the cuts will be achieved by regulations requiring electricity companies to get one-third of their power from renewable sources like solar and wind, and higher efficiency standards for appliances and buildings.
Under the plan, companies will initially get 90% of their emissions allowances for free. But they will eventually have to become more efficient, and pollute less, or purchase emissions allowances in the future. Even so, a number of environmental groups tried to block the hand-out in the courts.
Over time the cap-and-trade programme will expand to cover 85% of California’s economy. It will also extend beyond the borders of California.