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Californians say no to Proposition 23, yes to climate action
B.C., Ontario and Quebec can build on that momentum
While yesterday's U.S. mid-term elections didn't do much to improve the short-term prospects of U.S. federal action on climate change, California offered some refreshingly positive news that should be a boon for state and provincial action in both countries.
Proposition 23 was a referendum that would have effectively killed California's continent-leading climate action plan if it had passed. A host of recent stories, including those in the Vancouver Sun and Toronto Star, offered doomsday scenarios about how a win for the proposition's backers would have reverberated across the continent and set back state and provincial plans that were counting on California's leadership.
The Western Climate Initiative was particularly at risk. The initiative is a partnership of 11 states and provinces to start a cap and trade system in January 2012. California is one of the five partners on schedule to be ready for that date, and their economy is by far the biggest of the five. A yes vote on Proposition 23 would have prevented them from participating. It would have also made it more difficult for the other partners on the same schedule (New Mexico, B.C., Ontario and Quebec) to stay the course.
Thankfully, Proposition 23 was defeated resoundingly on a few levels. Most importantly, at the ballot box, 61% of Californians said they wanted to keep going in their efforts to combat global warming and build a green economy — no small feat in an election that saw Americans extremely frustrated with government in general. Proposition 23 also demonstrated what an economic powerhouse clean energy is becoming. In total, clean energy companies, environmentalists and other opponents of Proposition 23 raised $32 million to support their effort compared to the $9 million raised primarily by fossil fuel companies. California also elected a governor who opposed Proposition 23 in favour of clean energy and jobs.
On one hand, the rejection of Proposition 23 is a good reason to breathe a sigh of relief. In essence, it was a climate policy crisis averted. At the same time, it is an even better reason to take a deep breath and get ready for the opportunities ahead. That's because the "no" vote also removes what was probably the biggest barrier to the next step on state and provincial climate action. California now has a bright green light for their climate action plan — including the draft cap-and-trade rules it released last week. California's Western Climate Initiative partners now have confidence that the biggest economy in their partnership is going to be ready to go and will be counting on them to do the same.
We know that green lights for climate action are few and far between, so in Canada, now is the time for B.C., Quebec and Ontario to step on the accelerator. They have every opportunity to get their cap-and-trade regulations in place so they're ready to go on Jan. 1, 2012, with the strongest cap-and-trade system possible.
Matt Horne is a policy expert with the Pembina Institute. He is based in Vancouver.