From climate policy to cap-and-trade, experts tackle big issues at USC global energy forum

October 20, 2017

Dean Jack Knott delivers opening remarks for the 2017 Energy Policy Forum at USC. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)
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By Matthew Kredell

To better understand the complex and important issues surrounding energy and the environment on a global scale, the USC Price School of Public Policy forged a three-year research collaboration the Tsinghua School of Policy in Beijing and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin to exchange research findings on the evolving energy and climate change policies of their respective countries and beyond.

In his opening address, USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott noted that Germany, China and the State of California are leading the world in conducting important research and policy work in the area of climate change. Deans of all three schools were in attendance.

“Bringing together these three schools from these three regions to share expertise and learn from each other is truly a unique opportunity to make progress on our research and advocacy in the realm of environmental and climate change,” Knott said.

The forum followed the 2016 meeting in Berlin and inaugural 2015 gathering in Beijing.

Mitigation efforts

Hertie School Dean Helmut Anheier, right (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Six panel sessions held over two days, Oct. 5 and 6, featured an international and interdisciplinary group of experts. One key takeaway was that state and local governments can make an impact on environmental issues without the federal government’s support.

Price faculty Dan Wei (right) and Adam Rose (left) (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

USC Price Professor Adam Rose moderated the opening session on the status of the COP 21 Paris Accords, in which 195 countries made pledges to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to limit future warming on average to two degrees centigrade. The breakthrough came when the sides agreed to a bottom-up approach where each country decided what its own contribution should be.

However, the countries made pledges, which is softer than a commitment. There’s concern over how many countries will honor their pledges; the Trump Administration announced over the summer that the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement.

Price Assistant Research Professor Dan Wei presented her collaborative study on the promise and performance of cap-and-trade under the Accords.

“The main conclusion of our study is we think it’s really important for the major countries to take the lead to establish and link their existing cap-and-trade system and illuminate the path forward to achieve a global system,” said Wei, who went on to suggest that it’s important to have monitory reporting verification framework in place to guarantee the additionality of reduction under trading.

Practitioner’s perspective

Tsinghua School Dean Xue Lan addresses forum attendees. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, added an implementer’s point of view to research presented on sub-national governmental initiatives on climate change presented in Session 2, which was moderated by USC Price Professor Dan Mazmanian.

Mary Nichols of the CA Air Resources Board (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Professor Antonio Bento (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Nichols – who noted that earlier in the day she was at downtown L.A.’s Union Station for the unveiling of a train bought for the city with money generated by the cap-and-trade program – assessed that the common themes among programs are much greater than any differences.

“How in a democratic society do you get people to agree to impose additional burdens on themselves for something which is remote and not immediately present, and how much do we need people to either understand or like cap-and-trade in order to make it a useful instrument?” Nichols said. “There’s widespread recognition that, as important as cap-and-trade is for the shift to cleaner renewable energy technologies, the transportation sector looms larger.”

In a third session on renewable energies, USC Price Professor Antonio Bento discussed the effects of a Renewable Portfolio Standard.

“What we ought to be thinking about in the broader climate policy portfolio of instruments is how do we think about RPS in coordination with future cap-and-trade programs,” Bento said. “If the renewable energy sector was a new sector, what this instrument gives you in the short run is incentive for that sector to grow. Once that sector grows, you’ll probably have more political feasibility in implementing a cap-and-trade.”

In Session 4 on household energy behavior, Price Ph.D. student Lee White presented research on the effect of income and perceived control on the segregation of energy rates based on the time in which the energy is consumed.

Local action, global impact

USC Price Professor Dan Mazmanian was the forum’s lead organizer. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

A fifth session, moderated by USC Price’s Hilda Blanco, focused on local-level action in the field of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Presenter Hilda Blanco, left, with panel moderator Marlon Boarnet (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Professor Yan Tang (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Professor Marlon Boarnet presented his research on policies for lowering vehicle miles traveled (VMTs) as a method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He summarized that pricing has the strongest effect on reducing VMTs, from fuel taxes to parking pricing. Other methods include infill development, highways, transit and bicycle-pedestrian investments.

Blanco asserted that inconsistent greenhouse gas inventories are the weak link in assessing local climate action. She noted that the local scale does have potential for significant reductions in GHG emissions. In fact, a 2013 study argued that local governments can achieve up to 39 percent of California’s GHG reduction target for 2020. Her study examined local inventories in California and concluded that inconsistencies in the scope and emission sectors included in the inventories – and the lack of monitoring of local emissions – make it difficult, or impossible, to rely on local efforts to achieve the state’s climate mitigation goals. Blanco concluded with several recommendations for the state to improve local emissions inventories by facilitating local reporting through new requirements and funding.

Price Professor Yan Tang moderated the final session on the importance of governance in the pursuit of climate change and sustainable development policies, from the local to international level. Topics included governance challenges in regulating environmental performance and the need for a polycentric climate governance, which would require a central international authority and a legally binding international multilateral climate agreement.

Advancing solutions

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at the 2017 Energy Policy Forum. (Photo by Tom Queally)
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At the end of the first day, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger engaged the forum participants.

Photo by Tom Queally

The USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, which supported the three-year partnership, recently launched a Digital Environmental Legislative Handbook as a searchable database of environmental bills and laws to help lawmakers craft their own climate change legislation.

Knott concluded the forum by noting that he hoped this partnership would continue past this original three-year plan, expanding to add other areas of the world such as South Asia.

“After three years, I’m very impressed with the energy and ongoing research this partnership has produced, and the limited but evolving goals we have for the future,” Knott said. “I’ve been enormously impressed by the presentations, the quantitative basis, the theoretical thinking, the application to policy, and the effort to make it comparative.”