Could regions hold the key to climate action?

Dec 6, 2010

Delegates at the U.N. Climate Conference in Cancun Mexico are still haggling over the same sticking points that prevented an agreement a year ago in Copenhagen: who is going to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions how much by when, and who's going to pay for it all.

And with the U.S. unwilling to sign on to the sort of strict economy-wide carbon diet being pushed by Europe and others, right now the signs of progress are few.

Meanwhile, a glimmer of hope may be showing up in a growing number of efforts to cut emissions at the regional level.

Earlier today, I attended a panel discussion with representatives of the three regional greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in the U.S.

There was one rep from Illinois, a fellow named Doug Scott. He represents a group of six states and one Canadian province that’s trying to do something similar to the Western Climate Initiative, here on the west coast. He noted that the states in his group tend to be more politically conservative than the states in the Western Climate Initiative. And he says some of them aren’t even mainly motivated by concern about global warming. It's the economic benefits that are getting them on board.

"If you do those things, the energy efficiency programs, you're going to get the benefits from doing that," he says. "And if that's done because you want to have energy independence, or you want to promote green jobs,  it doesn't matter. You're still doing the work and you're still getting the (greenhouse gas) reductions."

In addition to Scott's group -- the Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord -- and the Western Climate Initiative, there's also group of ten states on the East Coast that has a cap and trade system for power producers. It's called the Regional Greenhouse  Gas Initiative.  Between them, these three regional efforts involve 23 states and four Canadian provinces.  And those areas account for half of the US economy and three quarters of the Canadian economy.

None of these initiatives are without their challenges. In the west,  lawmakers in both Washington and Oregon have so far declined to join California's coming cap and trade program. And in New Jersey and  some other eastern states,  governors are diverting money from their cap and trade system away from green energy projects and using it to backfill budget gaps instead.

Still, with the prospects for bold climate action wavering on both the national and international stages,  some folks are saying the real action is at the regional level.