As an energy law fellow, I have watched California’s actions with great interest. I got my start as a California Executive Fellow, working under the legislative affairs secretary and deputy chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This position followed my work at the California Energy Commission, where I cut my environmental teeth as an undergraduate research assistant. During my fellowship year, I was picked by Gov. Schwarzenegger’s deputy chief of staff to handle a wide range of projects in the Governor’s Office – from homelessness to the State Budget.
The most interesting part of my job was sitting in on meetings with legislators and others from the Administration. Indeed, it was in this setting that I received my introduction to high stakes negotiations in the context of renewable energy. I became interested in renewable energy after watching my mentor negotiate AB 32 (the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006). I left my fellowship year with a clear understanding of how negotiators achieve meaningful reforms.
I also came to understand that climate change mitigation hinges on policymakers finding common ground on complex issues. California’s actions on climate change have increased importance as world leaders seek common ground on climate, even as the countdown to the U.N. Climate Change Conference continues to run.
The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. This requires negotiators to bridge the divide between rich and poor countries.
The new agreement will be adopted at the Paris climate conference in December and implemented from 2020. It will take the form of a protocol, another legal instrument or “an agreed outcome with legal force,” and will be applicable to all Parties. It is being negotiated through a process known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).
California has provided global leadership on environmental policies and energy regulation since AB 32 established a market for carbon allowances and offsets. SB 350 now sets new aggressive targets for the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards, and doubles the rate of energy efficiency savings in California buildings.
Balancing job growth and economic growth with environmental leadership requires a vision that understands that climate adaption measures are smart economic and ecological investments in our future. Because California’s legislative leaders found common ground with the private sector, an amended version of the bill emerged that builds on California’s environmental legacy.
No doubt similar dynamics animate global negotiations to achieve a legally binding international agreement on climate. With California’s actions on climate, there is cause for hope.