Capitol Alert

Lots of MOUs in Paris, but cap-and-trade expansion ‘moving slowly’ for California

Gov. Jerry Brown attends a meeting with leaders of other jurisdictions at Paris’ city hall on Dec. 7, 2015.
Gov. Jerry Brown attends a meeting with leaders of other jurisdictions at Paris’ city hall on Dec. 7, 2015. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

In his effort to rally local and state governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Gov. Jerry Brown has appeared repeatedly in Paris with like-minded politicians from around the world.

His message is not only outward-looking; Brown is also trying to make an impression back home.

“Being here with my fellow provincial and regional leaders, it makes the point that we’re not alone, that California’s not an exception,” the Democratic governor said at a news conference on Monday at Paris’ lavish city hall. “It is part of a much larger undertaking, and that’s what’s so crucial here.”

In addition to a slew of non-binding agreements on climate policy – including several signed this week – California has tried for years to formally link its climate policies with other jurisdictions, especially its cap-and-trade program, in which polluters pay to offset carbon emissions.

Brown acknowledged Monday that the process has been “quite challenging.”

“We’re moving slowly in that regard,” he said, “but we certainly have the aspiration” of adding more jurisdictions to cap-and-trade.

In 2008, officials from California, six other Western states and four Canadian announced plans to set up a massive market for cap-and-trade. The members included Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Utah and provinces of Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba.

Amid the recession, most of those jurisdictions dropped out.

California currently runs joint cap-and-trade auctions with Quebec, allowing emissions credit purchased in California to be used by a company in Quebec, and vice versa.

But two other Canadian provinces, Manitoba and Ontario, have plans to come on board. California and Chinese officials have discussed possibly linking cap-and-trade systems.

The Environmental Defense Fund’s Derek Walker said “it’s not going to be easy” but that more states and provinces are interested in cap-and-trade and appear to be “on deck.”

On Monday, Brown bounded from meetings in Paris to the northern suburb of Le Bourget, where world leaders are trying to negotiate a new climate pact. He met privately with Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations.

According to Brown’s office, the two men talked about progress toward an agreement, which Brown is hoping to influence with his promotion of California-style climate policies.

Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard University and expert in international climate agreements, said Brown’s input in these talks will likely be minimal.

“If the governor has a seat at the table, it’s going to be at the kids’ table,” Stavins said. “That’s just the reality. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t listening or talking to him, but the negotiations are the 196 (countries).

However, Stavins said, the expansion of cap-and-trade is “potentially very important,” possibly leading other jurisdictions to become more ambitious in their own environmental goals.

That effort, Stavins said, is where Brown could make a difference.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders