Here’s the second installment on our Q&A with John Gunn of the Manomet Center and Nate Gorence, Policy Analyst from the National Commission on Energy Policy, inspired by the “Speak Up!” questions you turned in to us during the conference.
6. While our science and research are great, it seems like we are only taking baby steps in the face of the full run of global climate change. When, how and if we expect to see the large scale change that we apparently need. (e.g.: as a 22 year old, can I be optimistic for enough change in time to make a difference?) – Concerned Young One
Gunn: Not sure if I’m the best one to answer this. But, this seems to be a critical time. There is now more awareness, understanding, and desire to take large-scale action than there was when I was 22. I certainly wasn’t thinking about it then. I’m encouraged by the recent global effort to address greenhouse gases – and believe that the US needs to take decisive action this year if we’re to be part of the solution – only natural since we are part of the problem. I would be encouraged by the rapidity in which the issue has taken center stage and see it as a challenge to play a role in whatever way your skills are best suited.
7. Do you agree that Cap and Trade will give the government the ability to pick which entities survive & which fail based on political whim, not merit or consumer (market) drivers? Why should a free market nation accept this type of economic policy that will cripple our economy?
Gorence: Picking winners is exactly what a cap-and-trade system seeks to avoid. Rather than using command and control types of prescriptive regulation, a cap-and-trade system creates an emissions cap for the economy as a whole and then gives all participants flexibility to make emissions reductions however they can, with whatever technologies, mechanisms, or fuels they choose. It is true that our energy economy, which has been dominated by fossil fuels for more than a century, will be transformed over the long run, but how we make those transformations will be left to the marketplace.
8. It could be argued that the concept of “additionality” favors land managers/ owners that currently are doing nothing and discriminates against those that already practicing responsible & sustainable management. Same could be said for businesses/ manufacturers who are environmentally responsible. What is the solution to this and how can responsible forest managers be rewarded for their past and current actions with this system?
Gunn: It can be argued that additionality as it has been defined in the more rigorous standards does not benefit the current “good actors”. However, in the context of removing carbon from the atmosphere, don’t we gain more benefit if we get the “bad actors” to improve what they are doing? Formal carbon regulatory markets aren’t likely the best tool to reward those kinds of landowners or businesses that are already doing the right thing. It’s difficult to convince a market that it is getting what it is paying for if you can’t demonstrate that anything has changed. Remember, the offset markets are trading in offsets that are derived from many more sources than forests – and many of these sources are much easier to measure, track, and prove that they are additional. There are other mechanisms to reward the good actors and keep forests as forests – and we need to pursue those in parallel with an offset market that includes managed forest credits.
9. If other countries such as India or China do not follow Cap and Trade, should the US still plan to adopt such a system?
Gorence: Over the long run, if there is no global solution, what the US implements will make little difference to global emissions. At the same time, action from developing countries is almost assuredly predicated on U.S. leadership. In our most recent report, the National Commission on Energy Policy said this on the topic:
“The Commission has always recognized the necessity of engaging other countries in any sustained and ultimately successful effort to manage climate risks—indeed it is precisely for this reason that we assign great urgency to re-asserting a leadership role for the United States. Our original recommendations therefore sought to create a direct linkage between future U.S. emission-reduction commitments and comparable action by other major emitting nations. The primary mechanism included in our 2004 recommendations for this purpose was a periodic review by the President and Congress—to be conducted every five years—for the express purpose of assessing progress both internationally and domestically and for adjusting U.S. policy accordingly.
In addition, the Commission specifically called for a tripling of federal expenditures to promote and participate in cooperative international efforts to advance energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment. Over the last two years it has become clearer than ever that any successful national policy must place considerable emphasis on promoting wider international cooperation. By some accounts, China is now adding new coal capacity at the rate of one large power plant every week to ten days and is set to surpass the United States in total carbon emissions as early as 2009. Though some will argue that this sobering development weakens the case for action by the United States, the Commission draws the opposite conclusion. Our view remains that rapidly industrializing but still far poorer nations are likely to accept emissions limits only after the United States and other wealthy countries have demonstrated a willingness to take the lead. The current trajectory of global emissions not only underscores the liabilities of continued paralysis(in terms of prolonging business-as-usual trends in places like China and India), it argues for concerted measures to bring other countries along as quickly as possible.” For more discussion please see: http://www.energycommission.org/ht/display/ContentDetails/i/1577/pid/493
10. How much thought has been given to rewarding forest landowners who avoid deforestation and thereby inherently provide additionality?
Gunn: There is significant effort globally to promote the concept of avoided deforestation, also referred to as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). This concept is not currently accepted under Kyoto or the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS). A group called “Avoided Deforestation Partners” is developing a methodology that they propose to be accepted under VCS – with the longer-term objective of having the concept accepted more broadly in the future. REDD is fraught with many of the same issues that prove to be challenging in managed forest offsets. Issues of additionality are crucial – Was the forest in imminent danger of conversion or another form of deforestation? And can you prove it? Leakage – if you prevent one parcel from being developed, will another one next door be developed instead? We have more experience in the US dealing with permanence through the use of conservation easements to prevent conversion. It may be cost effective to pursue easements that include carbon storage as part of a suite of ecosystem service values being provided by forests. In essence then, we’ve been rewarding avoided deforestation for some time, just not being explicit about the carbon benefit.
11. What have been the costs of implementing the Kyoto protocol and has there been any measured success? What will be a measurable level of success for Cap & Trade on CC markets?
Gorence: Kyoto, while imperfect and with several critical shortcomings, represents an important first step in crafting a multinational solution to climate. The next round of international climate negotiations, however, will be crucial to determining how the world addresses this problem. Given the uncertainty about the success rates of individual countries, it is difficult to assess total costs.
An easy determination of how successful a cap-and-trade system is that it must achieve the emissions goals that are set as the cap. Within a cap and trade system, emissions must be monitored, measured and verified, so understanding if targets are met should be straightforward. Other goals of domestic cap and trade should be to limit economic disruptions and incorporate other countries into a global solution. Measuring these factors is not as straightforward.