Climate Solutions will Require California Creativity

Successful programs like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and RenovaBio remind us that not all climate answers emanate from Capitol Hill. Absent consensus on climate policy at the federal level, following the Golden State’s lead seems prudent.

At this writing, two major happenings are occurring on the climate front. The first is the dwindling hope that groundbreaking climate policy will be part of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. The Second is the gathering of world leaders at the UN Climate Conference in Scotland.

For me, there are two takeaways.

The first is the realization that climate activists must temper their legislative expectations. A single senator appears to have jettisoned the president’s idea for $150 billion to pay power plants to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels.

Even if Democrats agree to a watered-down agenda, climate advocates must acknowledge that Congress may be unable or unwilling to pass historic climate legislation without a sea change in public opinion.

Congress reflects a divided America. Most voters claim to support policies that will reduce greenhouse gases, but when it comes to picking up the tab, many balk. A survey from 2019 finds that nearly 70 percent of Americans would not be willing to pay even ten bucks more a month in higher electric bills even if the money was going to fight climate change.

This leads us to the second event, the gathering of global climate policymakers in Scotland for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

Ostensibly the Summit’s goal is to “accelerate action” toward the Paris Agreement, but the real long-term challenge is to change the hearts and minds of average citizens in the developed world. Abraham Lincoln famously said that “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.”

Absent a broad consensus or willingness, policymakers must act with the tools available now. They need to be creative in terms of executive and regulatory action, public-private partnerships and fresh ideas that can inspire people.

For climate creativity, California can once again show us the way.

Ten years ago, California policymakers implemented its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) to reduce greenhouse gases. The LCFS was part of a broader initiative that sought to improve vehicle technology, improve mileage and introduce transportation options to a growing populace. Specifically, the LCFS would lower the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by elevating the role of renewable, low carbon alternatives to traditional fossil fuels.

Ethanol derived from Brazilian sugarcane is a key pillar of the program. By relying on ethanol, biodiesel and electricity, the state is making significant progress toward its goal of a 20 percent reduction in the state’s transportation fuel carbon intensity by 2030. This mix is working and, according to the GHG Management Institute, California’s LCFS program has “successfully achieved a 5% decrease in the carbon intensity of transportation fuel (between 2011 and 2018).” The Brazilian sugarcane industry is committed to continuous improvement and understands sugarcane will not only continue to help California meet its ambitious goals but also play a role in the sustainable aviation fuel opportunities to come.

Over its ten years, LCFS has not remained static. It was amended to reflect California’s increasingly bold climate vision. Seeing the success of the program, a multi-jurisdictional coalition between California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia is coalescing around polices to emulate the Golden State’s progress.

LCFS’s success has also sparked innovation in Brazil with the development of the country’s first market-based carbon credit program, RenovaBio. This program offers incentives to fuel distributors to buy emission reduction certificates known as CBios. By tapping market forces, Brazil’s domestic ethanol sector will continue to grow while reducing the need for traditional petroleum-based products.

Successful programs like the LCFS and RenovaBio should remind us that all the climate answers don’t emanate from Capitol Hill, but I remain optimistic that over the long haul, federal policymakers will see the value in following California’s lead.

Leticia Phillips
Leticia Phillips

Leticia Phillips is UNICA’s Representative for North America. Ms. Phillips is an expert on Brazil-US relations and leads the Brazilian sugarcane industry’s advocacy efforts before the main stakeholders in the region, including the US Congress, Federal agencies, State legislators and business and civil society.