Four Reasons California Cap and Trade Had An Extraordinary First Year

California's program is still young and isn’t the world’s first emission trading program, but here are the top four reasons we’re celebrating – and why the global community should, too.

In California, we’ve just marked the one year birthday of the state’s landmark cap-and-trade program, a market-based approach to reducing the Golden State’s carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. EDF thinks it’s a pretty big deal, and we’re not alone: the program weighed in at number one on Time’s top 10 green stories of 2013.

In lieu of cake and candles to celebrate the program’s first year and future potential, we've published the California Carbon Market Watch: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Golden State’s Cap-and-Trade Program, Year One. This report is our comprehensive assessment of cap and trade’s inaugural year, and our analyses and interviews with market experts conclude that a strong, healthy, and enduring carbon market has emerged.

We know that California's program is still young and isn’t the world’s first emission trading program, or even the first in the U.S., so why are we so excited about this milestone? Here are the top four reasons we’re celebrating – and why the global community should, too:

1. It’s a well-designed program off to a promising start. California has held five allowance auctions to date and they’ve all run smoothly. All emissions allowances usable for compliance in 2013 were sold, auction participation has been strong and allowance prices have remained stable and reasonable. In addition to successful quarterly auctions, a healthy secondary market over the first year suggests that regulated companies are purchasing allowances and thereby incorporating the cost of carbon pollution into their strategic planning. This successful start is due to a commitment to building a solid foundation of principles carried out under the highest of market standards. 

2. With cap and trade in place, the California economy continues to recover. With a price signal now in place for emission reductions, regulated companies can flexibly decide how to reduce their pollution. In addition, clean energy companies and innovators are creating products and services that are transforming California to a clean energy economy. And money raised by the auctions will be invested in this clean energy future, and especially benefit communities hit hardest by climate change. These investments will boost clean tech in California, improve air quality, and create jobs.

3. The foundation is set for a strong, long-term program. In 2015, California’s cap will more than double in size to cover 85% of the state’s economy and include transportation fuels, thus ensuring carbon pollution reduction from its largest source - transportation. And, there is already discussion in the state capital about the program’s future after meeting its goals by 2020.

With these positive indicators, we’re confident cap and trade is here to stay. The continued success of this program will also show the world that cutting carbon can be done efficiently and affordably, while driving innovation and growing an economy that builds healthier – and more resilient – communities.

4. The world is watching…and is starting to act. The program is the most comprehensive and ambitious in North America, in both the sheer size of the state’s economy (the 8th largest in the world) and the numbers of sectors covered. Cap and trade is not only cleaning up California, it’s also serving as a model to build a comprehensive solution to the global climate crisis.


If we want to move the needle on climate change, it will take a global community to make it happen. The state’s carbon market is an important step, and we hope other jurisdictions will follow our lead to create market programs of their own. 

In the past year alone, there are promising signs of collaboration beyond California’s borders: the Golden State has formed a series of important partnerships including linkage with Quebec, a non-binding agreement with Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia to establish a regional climate plan, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with China which launched seven of its own pilot trading programs last year, and a MOU with Australia to guide collaboration in addressing climate change.

With California as a shining example of what is possible, I'm confident that others will continue to join the fight. So, happy first birthday California cap and trade. May the years ahead be as bright as the first.

The article originally appeared on the EDF Voices blog and is reprinted with permission.

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.