Climate talks rarely yield major turning points. The process is incremental. But some are more successful, in getting us where we need to go, than others. And the talks that just ended at Durban are historic. For the first time, all countries agreed to be bound in a new treaty to come into force by 2020, and cover all nations, not just developed ones, in the process also staving off the end of Kyoto, extending it for its 40 members in a new commitment period in its current form until 2015.
Many writers are concerned that 2020 is too late. Here is why I am not. History shows that when a carbon price is expected in the near future, actions are taken in advance. Related: California’s AB 32 Called Economic Boon.
In California in the seven years leading up to its long-expected cap and trade bill implementation to begin in 2013, the state became the national leader in renewable investment, capturing 40 percent of clean tech investment nationally. When companies expect that there will be a law putting a price on carbon a few years ahead, they invest in renewables and efficiency.
California’s renewable energy growth is already measurable, initially driven by the RES for 20 percent of clean power by 2010, but also by the next expectation that the next target will be 33 percent by 2020 (which has already generated offers of enough renewables to power California 100 poercent by then) but mostly by the long expected cap and trade bill that puts a price on carbon, although nearly torpedoed by fossil money in Proposition 29, that will now begin in 2013 – some seven years later.
In Europe, even before its Kyoto-driven ETS came into effect in 2005, companies were changing the way they do business, and reducing European carbon footprints to half that of the US. By 2008, it had overshot its 2012 targeted reductions already: EU Powers Past Kyoto Renewables Target.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) also overshot its targets, and eight years early, reducing emissions 33 percent below 2005 levels, well over the 10 percent required, and by 2010, much sooner than the 2018 asked for.
Likewise, in China, even before it agreed to binding commitments to lower its greenhouse gases, the state has started to act as if these are in force already: see Green Energy Global Growth Led By China. The level of investment in renewables in China could hardly be any higher than they are, even if it was bound by Kyoto requirement to reduce emissions; far exceeding U.S. renewable investment.
Because the Chinese government sees the inevitability of future climate agreement, it has acted in advance. Now that it has agreed to be part of a legally enforceable global treaty as well, it is formally acknowledging that it is committed to reducing total emissions and not just “emissions intensity.” With this multilateral agreement, China’s actions can no longer be ignored and used for an excuse for inaction.