Thursday, 20 August 2009

Rewarding Local Climate Action

I've heard and read a fair amount about how cities can be rewarded for early action or, in the case of SB 375, exceeding targets. Many policymakers think that cities should be able to monetize or receive additional funding for reductions they make beyond reduction mandates. On the surface, this seems like a great idea: to financially reward cities that do more than their fair share in reducing emissions. However, there are some drawbacks. As pointed out in UC Davis ITS Researcher Deborah Salon et al's paper on City Carbon Budgets, doing so would necessitate greenhouse gas emissions caps at the local level. While there are many concerns to tying local funding to greenhouse gas performance, my point is that cities that reduce emissions more than their neighbors will experience additional benefits. However, these benefits will not be channeled directly to the local government.

A number of publications, including Growing Cooler, have exalted the numerous co-benefits to reducing emissions in terms of urban design, property values, and transportation alternatives. However, under a carbon constrained economy, a major benefit to living in an area with low greenhouse gas emissions per capita will be the monetary savings: at $18 per ton of CO2e the difference in per capita emissions between the U.S. (around 24) and San Francisco (around 13) is about $200. This translates to about $160M of annual purchasing power to the City's residents.

While $200 pales in comparison to the differences in the cost of living between San Francisco and Los BaƱos, it's still $200.