2013 – Year of US Climate Action?
With royal pageantry and Olympic triumph it was difficult to find a dry eye in the UK in 2012. More difficult still was locating a dry seat. 2012 was the second wettest on record in the UK, another statistic to add to the mounting piles of data pointing to changes in our climatic patterns.
Nowhere have those changes been more apparent than in the United States. The latest report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the 48 states in the US between Mexico and Canada.
The report states: “2012 marked the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States with the year consisting of a record warm spring, second warmest summer, fourth warmest winter and a warmer-than-average autumn.”
The report goes further to state that 2012 was a historic year for extreme weather that included drought, wildfires, hurricanes and storms.
The nation suffered 11 weather disasters that each caused $1bn (£620m) in damage or more, including hurricanes Sandy and Isaac and deadly tornado outbreaks in the Great Plains, Texas and the Ohio Valley, though overall numbers of tornadoes reduced.
The immediate response to the more devastating climatic events like hurricane Sandy has been well documented, with NY Mayor Bloomberg endorsing Obama and pressing for action on climate change in the aftermath of the storm. However despite a prominent mention in Obama’s acceptance speech, a some clamour over carbon taxes, there has been little substantial coming out of the Obama 2.0 White House to encourage environmentalists.
It is being widely reported today that following intense lobbying by green groups, Obama is ‘seriously considering’ hosting a summit that will cast the President in a leadership role on national climate strategy. If true, and if the consideration leads to the sort of bipartisan meeting that has been suggested, this could be the start of the world’s second biggest polluter coming in from the cold (so to speak) on climate change policy.
Federal action would be building on foundations laid by some states. 1st January 2013 saw the beginning of full trading on the California Carbon Market. Following preliminary auctions in November, permits to emit greenhouse gases in the state of California rose to as high as $16.35 (€12.50) a tonne on the US’s first carbon market’s first official day of trading. Compare that to $8 (€6) carbon price currently available within the European equivalent system and it is not surprising that carbon market participants are starting to look to the US with a lot more enthusiasm.
Importantly, due to the floor price mechanisms built into the California auction system (currently $10), and the political simplicity of having one governing state administrating the system – compared to 27 states participating in the EU system – a price collapse of the kind seen in Europe in recent months seems less likely.
More climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change later this year is likely to add depth to the US weather data. In this context, the California trading scheme (plus moves to tighten the RGGI scheme in the North East), continuing moves to regulate some heavy polluting industries nationally through the Environmental Protection Agency, and Obama on the front foot, could be a potent political cocktail. Could 2013 be the US year of climate action?