My latest Clean Break column, which appears in Friday’s Toronto Star but has already been published online, looks at the next election Torontonians and the rest of Ontario’s citizens have to worry about, this one in California on Nov. 2. That’s assuming, of course, that you believe climate change is happening, believe human activity is the cause of it, and feel we have a moral obligation to take action. Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, doesn’t seem to fall into that category, which itself is alarming. But consider that the outcome of California’s election next Tuesday could pull the rug out from one of Ontario’s most important greenhouse-gas reduction strategies — cap-and-trade.
I’ll let you read my column for the full details, which echo concerns recently raised by Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller, on his commission blog and subsequently republished here. In a nutshell, Californians vote for a new governor, but they also vote to accept or reject Proposition 23, which aims to kill existing climate-change legislation that enables California’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), a regional carbon-trading market that Ontario is heavily involved in.
WCI has 11 members but California, New Mexico, Ontario, Quebec and B.C. are its anchors. These five jurisdictions all have enabling legislation in place and all were expected to launch the market in 2012. California on its own represents half the GHGs in the market. If California is forced to pull out — that is, if the “yes” vote for Prop 23 wins — then the WCI dominoes begin to fall. Ontario has not said it won’t move forward if California doesn’t, but it hasn’t said it will, and we know New Mexico will certainly bail if California bails.
If WCI collapses, I expect at least a couple more years of delay before Ontario participates in a carbon market. At best, Ontario, Quebec and B.C. could decide to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Intiative (RGGI), a much smaller regional market that includes 10 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. It has been in effect for two years. Problem is RGGI has weaker emission-reduction goals and is much narrower in focus — that is, its market only applies to power producers, while WCI also applies to large industrial emitters. (Again, read the column for more details). Better to keep WCI alive.
So, that’s why the California vote on Nov. 2 is so important. If the oil lobbyists and the Tea Party/Republican climate deniers manage to convince California voters to accept Prop 23, it won’t just derail Ontario’s efforts, it will kill what would have become the second-largest carbon trading market in the world and it will set back efforts in Washington and Ottawa to establish national cap-and-trade systems that are harmonized with each other.
Keep your fingers cross. The encouraging news is that, if you believe the polls, Proposition 23 is likely to be rejected. But polls have been wrong before, so this will remain a nailbiter until it’s over. Those who read this blog regularly will know that I’m a bigger fan of carbon taxes than I am of cap-and-trade. I worry about the complexity of a carbon market, all the bureaucracy and all the potential to manipulate it. But without alternatives waiting in the wings cap-and-trade is the best we’ve got. We need it. We need something to happen.