Talking about California and climate change in Scandinavia

Timothy O'Connor

Last month I joined California lawmakers on a two week trip to Sweden, Norway and Denmark to learn about environmental and energy policies on the Scandinavian Peninsula.

While abroad, we toured clean energy facilities, attended briefings on huge infrastructure projects, and met with high government officials, but in some ways the most striking part of the trip was the nationwide awareness of climate change — and the widespread awareness of California’s work to combat it.

Repeatedly, I was asked about California’s package of clean energy programs. This included questions about the success of the latest cap-and-trade auction or the state’s progress in building a carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) plant in California’s Central Valley.  The funny thing is, the average Californian would be hard pressed to know that cap-and-trade even exists. And CCS? Forget about it.

Traveling through northern Europe, it is truly amazing to see what happens when society buys into a mission to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  For example, following the Arab oil crisis of the 1970’s, Norway turned to hydro power and today produces about 99% of its energy from renewable resources.  Sweden, for its part, turns so much waste into energy it regularly imports trash from elsewhere in Europe.  

A visitor to these countries, learning about their energy saving innovations, can only imagine what would happen if California and the rest of the United States seriously put our minds to dealing with climate change. 

In California, policy makers did vote in 2006 to focus on greenhouse gas pollution – passing comprehensive climate legislation (AB 32).  Through this work, California is on track to cut its climate pollution back to 1990 levels.  While admirable, especially considering it is the only state to have such sweeping emissions limits, it isn’t nearly enough. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed that dramatic cuts below 1990 emissions levels are necessary to prevent global climate change.

My trip showed me that Scandinavian officials are paying attention to how California and the U.S. deal with climate change. They know they can’t fight it on their own.  They need our help, and I returned from my trip with a renewed sense of commitment to reaching a global solution to climate change.