Environment

Pendulum Swings Back To States On Climate Action

OPB | Feb. 16, 2010 5:43 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:08 a.m.

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By Tom Banse

 smokestack

Two months after the chaotic United Nations climate summit ended here, edgy "Hopenhagen" posters are one of the few visible reminders of the high stakes gathering of world leaders.  Ironically, the summit dashed the hopes of climate activists for a legally binding treaty to reduce global warming emissions.   

They're not giving up, but in the aftermath acting locally may gain more prominence than acting globally.

"The Copenhagen hangover is over.  Now countries including the United States have to act," said Denmark's energetic Minister of Energy and Climate Lykke Friss.

The Danes are engaging other countries to try to revive momentum for international climate negotiations.

We should fight all the way for a deal in Cancun,î where the next United Nations climate summit will convene at the end of this year.  "But that depends on the will of the moment," she said.  "There is no doubt this is a difficult process, Friss acknowledged.

In European capitals, policymakers are eager for clues or cues regarding the willingness of American lawmakers to regulate greenhouse gases.  "Cap-and-trade" legislation has been stalled in the U.S. Senate for the past five months.

If it's not realistic that the U.S. would sign a binding international [climate] treaty, what is below this?" asked a German parliament member in Berlin.  The answer may not lie in Washington, DC.

"We do think the pendulum is starting to swing back to states," said the former co-chair of the Western Climate Initiative Janice Adair.  In 2008, the grouping of seven Western U.S. states and four Canadian provinces developed a framework to regulate greenhouse gas emissions independent of their national governments.  The plan has not taken effect.

 arnold
BC Premier Gordon Campbell shakes hands with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the conclusion of a Pacific Coast leaders gathering in Vancouver, Canada. Washington Governor Chris Gregoire looks on from the right; Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown from the far left.

"More and more, the UN and the national governments recognize that the ësub-national' governments are really the ones that in the end can put the pressure on and create the action that is needed," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-California) Friday.  Schwarzenegger spoke in Vancouver, Canada after a mini-summit of Pacific Coast leaders timed to coincide with the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics. 

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell hosted the meeting to discuss common environmental topics.  Governor Christine Gregoire (D-Washington) and Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown also attended.

Gregoire said when it comes to cap-and-trade, she still maintains a national program is better than a regional program.  Yet state and local governments can do other things to control emissions, namely what policymakers such as Adair call "complementary" measures.

Schwarzenegger specifically mentioned California's Million Solar Roofs Initiative, which seeks to incentivize that number of rooftop solar arrays by 2016.  Some other examples include creating incentives for consumers to buy electric cars, increasing recycling or improving rail service.  Oregon and Washington have recently toughened their building codes to increase energy efficiency in new construction.

Gerry Pollet, the director of the Seattle-based environmental watchdog group Heart of America Northwest, recently urged his members to write Oregon and Washington's governors and legislators, "saying you want Northwest states' climate change legislation put back on the front burner - which is a good investment for our economy as well as for the health of our planet and children."

As in Congress, there is hesitancy in state legislatures.  "Our concerns are very much is this going to put us at a distinct competitive disadvantage," said state Rep. Shelly Short (R-Addy), a conservative legislator from northeast Washington.

Short says she is given pause by current controversies involving climate scientists, notably the one over hacked emails that has been dubbed "Climategate" by global warming skeptics. "I'll be honest and say some of the issues that have come forward really leave [in doubt] whether this is something we need to be doing," said Short.

Significant climate change legislation has not come up for debate this winter during the short 2010 sessions of the Washington and Oregon Legislatures.   But all the players on this issue expect global warming controls to return to the forefront in Salem and Olympia in 2011.

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