California Climate Policy and the Sierra: One Size Does Not Fit All

Today Sierra CAMP published a policy memo discussing the reauthorization of California’s cap-and-trade system for continuation beyond 2020.

California’s landmark cap-and-trade program, one of the state’s most critical vehicles for addressing climate change-causing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, faces the possibility of being discontinued unless the state legislature reauthorizes cap-and-trade policy. For more information on cap-and-trade and its relevance to the Sierra, download our California Cap-and-Trade Policy and Sierra Nevada Communities fact sheet.

COMM Blog AffordableHousing PA 2016 12Reauthorizing cap-and-trade is one crucial step towards ensuring funds are allocated to address climate change across the state and in the Sierra. However, it was apparent in Sierra CAMP’s recent listening session hosted by the California Air Resources Board’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee that there is much more work to be done at the state policy level beyond cap-and-trade, namely to do with addressing environmental justice and incorporating more regional strategies instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. Take the state’s 2030 Target Scoping Plan, for example.

The 2030 Target Scoping Plan is the state’s comprehensive strategy for reaching its greenhouse gas reduction goal of 40% below the emissions of 1990, and it has largely failed to address the lack of benefit to rural communities from economic development attributable to GHG reduction activities. It also excludes all mention of forest health and maintenance, despite the fact that Sierra Nevada forests are quickly becoming net carbon emitters. Since maintaining healthy forests is one of the best ways to prevent black carbon emissions, sequester carbon and restore the state’s main watershed, we see this as a huge opportunity lost.

The state could address this by incorporating a more region-by-region strategy into its climate policy and implementation. For example, rural set-asides could be created in all programs where practical, including the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund that distributes money from the cap-and-trade program. These set-asides could be accompanied by a longer-term strategy of developing regional approaches that recognize the distinctions between different parts of the state (eg. “one size does not fit all”), where emission reduction goals, low-income/DAC identification, funding distribution, and technical assistance/capacity-building strategies are developed with region-specific contexts in mind.

There would be opportunity within such a region-by-region strategy to better leverage GHG reduction activities to create economic opportunity and resilient economic growth across all parts of the state. Implementation of GHG reduction actions has reduced emissions while the state has seen robust growth in GDP. To ensure this holds true as reductions become more difficult to achieve, we need strategies that establish regional goals linked to improving economic performance at the community level.

And last but certainly not least, there needs to be an ongoing dialogue in California about rural needs and issues; without such a dialogue, rural regions will continue to be alienated and will remain less likely to support the policies and programs necessary to meet statewide emission reduction goals. Though state listening sessions in the Sierra are a good start, we remain without a systematic way for rural voices to be heard.

So while Sierra CAMP makes the case for reauthorization of cap-and-trade today, we are also looking for ways to address these needs in the coming months; be sure to keep checking the SBC blog and Sierra CAMP’s website and social media for updates on our crucial work bringing these conversations front and center.