Policies to Watch
As various states and countries develop reponses to climate change, some innovative approaches have emerged. PHI is particularly interested in those that will also benefit public health outcomes. The following are some emerging polcies we're watching.
College and University Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement
Students at many colleges and universities are organizing and advocating for their institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies, because of the role fossil fuels play in producing the greenhouse gases causing climate change. San Francisco State University (SFSU) students and SFSU's Health Equity Institute produced a video that was used to advocate for divestment at the university. It articulates the goals of the Fossil Free movement, and some of the health equity challenges posed by climate change and current fossil fuel use. SFSU has announced that it is divesting from coal and tar sands, joining several other universities that have passed similar institutional policies. For more information, see the Fossil Free website.
U.S. Climate Change Health and Protection Promotion Act, 2013
This legislation, reintroduced in May 16, 2013 in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeks improve the nation’s public health response to climate change by supporting research, surveillance, planning, and interagency coordination to develop national plan for action. The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a national strategic action plan for addressing the public health imapcts of climate change, and increase research on the health impacts of climate change. In addition, it supports development of programs to educate public health and health care professionals and the public about the health impacts of climate change. For more information, see the text of the bill. The Public Health Institute joined the American Public Health Association and other public health organizations to submit a letter of support for the bill.
Cancún Agreement (COP-16)
The U.N. climate summit of 2010, which took place in Cancún, Mexico, resulted in a non-binding agreement in which countries acknowledged that deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will be required to meet a stated goal of limiting climate change to a 2° Celsius increase in average temperatures. The agreement created a Green Climate Fund through which industrialized nations will help developing nations finance mitigation and adaptation efforts. Industrialized countries also agreed to submit annual emissions inventories. At follow-up talks in Bangkok, countries failed to make progress toward implementing the agreement. Learn more about the Cancún talks.
“Cap and trade” refers to a system in which government sets a regulatory limit on net pollution and then allows polluters to buy and sell pollution allotments and offsets. The scheme was originally devised as a way to reduce acid rain in the United States, which it did very effectively. Cap and trade has become the predominant means of limiting greenhouse gas emissions around the world (notably, in the European Union and under California’s AB 32 legislation), despite objections from many who believe a simple carbon tax would be more effective. The EU recently adopted a plan to reduce the number of permits it allots in order to cut GHG reductions by 80 percent by 2050.
Rather than allowing polluters to buy and sell greenhouse gas production allotments, as cap-and-trade systems do, a carbon tax sets a tax payable per emissions unit. Carbon taxes have been proposed and defeated, under industry pressure, in a handful of countries. India and the Scandinavian countries are the only nations that have functional carbon taxes in place. However, Australia recently approved such a tax (learn more about Australia's policy).
California is developing a proposal to amend its Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) regulations. The proposed amendments, to be known as LEV III, will includes efforts to support and accelerate the numbers of plug-in hybrids and zero-emission vehicles in California and set more stringent tailpipe and greenhouse gas emission standards for new passenger vehicles. Federal regulators are expected to implement California's fuel-efficiency standards nationally when they are announced in September 2011. President Obama has indicated his administration will seek a 57.5 fleetwide average MPG.
Communities Benefits Fund
Legislation requiring that a portion of the proceeds generated by cap-and-trade to go towards the most vulnerable communities passed by the California legislature in 2010 but was vetoed by the governor. In February 2011, Senator Kevin DeLeon (D-Los Angeles) introduced SB 535 that would establish a Healthy Neighborhood Fund.
Distributed energy resources are small-scale power generation technologies located close to where electricity is used to provide an alternative to or an enhancement of the traditional electric power system, which disproportionately creates air and water pollution in poorer areas.
A 2010 Colorado law requires that 3 percent of the state's energy utilize distributed generation.
Feed-in tariffs offer an alternative to the simple requirements of Renewable Portfolio Standards by guaranteeing renewable energy producers access to power grids and long-term contracts for their power. Several recent European studies that tariffs are the more effective way to facilitate the transition to renewable power.
Six U.S. states, seven European nations, Thailand, the Ukraine and Israel currently have feed-in tariffs, many limited to very small energy producers.
Global Warming Solutions Act
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as AB 32, is the only climate mitigation policy in the world to address the full range of greenhouse gas emissions — not just from energy production and industry but also from transportation, agriculture, and private and commercial energy use.
Green Building and LEED
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building program active in the United States focuses not just on reducing commercial buildings' energy use but on making the buildings healthy environments for those who live and work there by decreasing use of toxic chemicals and increasing natural ventilation and daylight.
Both California and the EU set minimum standards for energy efficiency in new buildings; the California law also includes existing state buildings, and the EU law addresses all existing buildings.
The Kyoto Protocol — initially adopted in 1997 and effective beginning in early 2005 — was the first international treaty dealing with climate change. Signing industrialized nations — of which the United States is not one — agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels by 2020. The treaty established a variety of means through which those goals could be obtained, including emissions trading and investments in clean energy outside a given nation’s borders. Participating industrialized countries must also report annual emissions to the U.N. The treaty is set to expire at the end of 2012. U.N. climate negotiations have thus far failed to renew the agreement. Learn more.
Renewable Portfolio Standards
Thirty U.S. states — and several countries around the world — have implemented a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that a certain percent of the state's energy come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power. The percentage varies from state to state; California and Hawaii currently have the most aggressive standards, requiring 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030, respectively.
A European Union directive calls for 20 percent renewable energy across Europe by 2020.
California's groundbreaking smart growth law, SB 375, now called Strategic Communities, allows the state to set greenhouse gas reductions targets for all regions, and requires those regions to present plans on how to meet them. The law incentivizes denser development in communities where residents can walk to mass transit hubs and shopping centers.
This page was last updated on 5-28-2013
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