3 takeaways from the California, Mexico climate agreement

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California Governor Jerry Brown and Mexican officials sign climate pact.

If you are looking for a sign that momentum is growing on climate action, this week’s groundbreaking agreement between California and Mexico to cooperate on climate change is a good place to start.

Most of the agenda at the four-day gubernatorial event was what you would expect to find at a trade and investment mission: agreements to cooperate on education, immigration, investment, but the inclusion of serious talks on climate change was surprising and hopeful.

The most tangible impact of the collaboration will be seen in the technical cooperation, information sharing, and potential policy alignment that are envisioned in the climate change agreement. But this week’s pact also suggests three less tangible but no less important takeaways:

1. Combatting climate change is sound economic policy

The fact that the climate change agreement was one of a handful of issues highlighted on California Governor Jerry Brown’s trip underscores the increasing importance of climate change to economic growth.  The impacts of climate change in California and the United States are becoming increasingly apparent, and Mexico faces similar issues of rising temperatures, increasing wildfires, and extreme precipitation.

With the growing evidence that climate risk will bring significant economic costs in the near term, and that delay will drive up the costs of taking action, smart climate policy is increasingly a key component of sound economic policy.

At the same time, the agreement also highlights the enormous opportunities for smart policy to drive clean energy innovation and investment on both sides of the border.  California’s leadership on climate change has already helped to make it a world leader in clean technologies. For its part, Mexico is poised to tap its enormous potential in solar, wind, and geothermal energy to help drive economic growth and energy security.

2. Carbon pricing continues to gain traction

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed on Monday by Governor Brown and Rodolfo Lacy, Undersecretary of Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, highlights carbon pricing as one of the key issues for cooperation under the agreement. 

Both sides are already taking action in this area: California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32) includes the world’s most comprehensive emission trading program for greenhouse gases, while Mexico has instituted a partial carbon tax on fossil fuels that represents an important initial step that could lay the groundwork for a more effective price on carbon in the coming years.

A price on carbon is a crucial policy tool to achieve the deep emissions reductions the world needs to avoid dangerous climate change. By ensuring that the true costs of climate pollution are reflected in the price of fossil fuels, and rewarding emissions reductions, carbon pricing ensures deployment of cost-effective climate solutions — and creates a powerful incentive to develop new technologies.

The agreement by California and Mexico adds another boost to the growing momentum on carbon pricing around the world. About 40 national and more than 20 sub-national jurisdictions, accounting for more than 22 percent emissions already have a price on carbon, according to the World Bank.

3. A new model for cooperation

The agreement between California and Mexico can provide a model for collaboration in the emerging “bottom-up” approach to climate change, in which national policies take center stage, rather than a “top-down” global agreement negotiated at the UN. Bilateral and regional cooperation will be all the more important in a bottom-up world, to foster greater ambition and give countries confidence that others are taking action as well.

California and Quebec have already linked their carbon markets. Now with carbon pricing a centerpiece of cooperation between California and Mexico, it does not seem too far-fetched to envision a “North American carbon market” emerging in the not-too-distant future.

California and Mexico face joint challenges from a changing climate. Together they can demonstrate to the world concrete progress on practical solutions to reduce carbon emissions, drive clean energy innovation and promote low-carbon prosperity.

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Nat Keohane

Nat Keohane

Nat Keohane, an economist and Environmental Defense Fund's vice president for International Climate, recently returned from 19 months in the White House as special assistant to the President for energy and environment in the National Economic Council and the Domestic Policy Council.

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Comments

I am thrilled to learn of the progress between California and Mexico. Our governor leads the way, and I am so glad there is progress on both sides of the border. Thank you EDF for being such an important part of the carbon-tax discussion. I am proud to support both you and our governor!