Let California Lead the Way with AB 1404

CA leading the way for air quality, environmental justice, and real emissions reductions.
CA leading the way for air quality, environmental justice, and real emissions reductions.
International Rivers has endorsed a bill currently under consideration by Californian legislators that would seriously limit the use of offsets within the state's planned carbon trading system, and totally ban the use of credits from the UN's Clean Development Mechanism. Assembly Bill 1404, or the Global Warming, Compliance Offsets and Air Quality in California bill, was introduced by Assembly Members Kevin De León and Manuel Pérez, both Southern California Democrats

This bill is co-sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists and endorsed by a number of scientists and environmental, labor and health groups, including NRDC, Sierra Club, the American Lung Association of California, and the California State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

By curtailing the enormous amount of offsets that are allowed in California under AB 32 (California's Global Warming Solutions Act), the De Leon-Pérez bill would in practice likely set a similar limit on offsets in the multi-state Western Climate Initiative.

The California Air Resource Board (CARB), which is tasked with setting up the rules to implement AB32, has proposed that offsets could substitute for up to 49 percent of the total emission reductions below the 2012 cap. This means that all of the emission reductions that are supposed to be achieved through California's cap and trade program could be met simply through buying offsets!

In contrast, the new bill (emphasis added):

  1. Limits the use of compliance offsets to no more than 10 percent of the emission reductions expected to be achieved through market mechanisms in each compliance period of AB 32. This limit applies regardless of whether a cap and trade program is implemented.
  2. Establishes requirements for verifying and tracking compliance offsets to ensure that they are real, not double-counted or sold more than once, and do not cause harm to the environment or public health.
  3. Requires CARB to prioritize the use of offsets that provide air quality benefits to communities already suffering from disproportionate levels of air pollution, particularly focusing on the air basin in which the offset purchaser resides, and that provide environmental and public health benefits to the state of California.
  4. Prohibits offsets from the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism to be used for compliance with California global warming regulations. A large majority of CDM projects do not actually reduce emissions. They have been proven to be "non-additional," which means that they would have occurred under business as usual without CDM funding.

According to UCS:

"If California’s global warming emitters are allowed to keep polluting and simply buy credits for emissions reductions happening elsewhere in the world—in effect outsourcing their reductions—Californians will lose out on local air quality and other co-benefits, including the improved energy security that will follow from reduced reliance on imported oil and gas."

However, by limiting offsets, local communities in California (in particular, low income communities often situated near the dirtiest facilities) could be saved from thousands of additional tons of pollutants each year. (For example, if all of the cap-and-trade reductions are achieved through out-of-state offsets, which is possible under AB 32's offsets provision according to UCS, nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter could increase by roughly 4,000 and 2,000 tons per year respectively in 2020, compared to a cap-and-trade program without offsets.)

In addition, excluding the CDM sends a strong message to the EU that "clean development" in poor countries should not be at the price of ruined rivers and partial public participation. (Just recently, an activist from Bali was awarded the Goldman Prize in recognition of her work in promoting sound and sustainable community waste management projects, one of which is currently being threatened by a CDM-backed waste incineration plant.)

As the US House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee and Congress debate a bill that could flood national efforts to cut emissions with spurious credits, let's not diminish our fight to secure a better climate policy on the West Coast that could eventually lead the way for the rest of the country.