SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Western U.S. states and Canadian provinces on Wednesday agreed to cut greenhouse emissions 15 percent by 2020 in the latest regional pact to regulate the gases, an approach opposed by U.S. President George W. Bush.
“Our collective commitment will build a successful regional system to be linked with other efforts across the nation and eventually the world,” California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
The Western Climate Initiative, led by Schwarzenegger, seeks to slash greenhouse emissions by 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Mandatory cuts are at odds with the voluntary approach favored by his Schwarzenegger’s fellow Republican Bush.
Schwarzenegger signed a landmark law last year mandating California to cut its carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020. California produces about 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, state officials say.
“We also feel the federal government needs to step up and take action and today’s action sends, I think, another strong signal to Washington,” Linda Adams, California’s secretary for Environmental Protection, told reporters. “In the absence of federal action, states and provinces are not waiting, they are in fact leading the way.
The White House this month announced a meeting of the biggest greenhouse gas-emitting countries on September 27-28 in Washington. The meeting is an effort to involve developing countries in the move to cut the pollutants.
Scientists say high levels of heat-trapping emissions, such as carbon dioxide, will lead to catastrophic storms, droughts and floods as temperatures rise and glaciers melt.
The group of six Western states and two provinces also agreed to design a market-based mechanism, such as a cap-and-trade program, by the end of August 2008 to help reach the goal.
The pact’s goal is modest compared to reductions of 80 percent by 2050 that two states -- New Jersey and Florida -- recently adopted.
Environmentalists welcomed the announcement although some said the targets were too lenient.
“These targets are barely consistent with what needs to be done,” said John Coequyt, energy policy analyst with Greenpeace in Washington.
The Western pact, along with a U.S. East Coast emissions agreement between 10 states, may pressure the U.S. Congress to pass laws regulating heat-trapping gases, he said.
But he cautioned that the modest 2020 goal could make it “heavy lifting” for advocates to push for agreement on deeper emissions cuts in the future.
The Western pact does not include Alberta, the Canadian province that is home to oil and natural gas fields, including the tar sands, whose development is extremely carbon-intensive. It also excludes Nevada, California’s neighbor which lacks emissions targets and has sought to lure Golden State businesses with tax benefits and other incentives.
“This was a big concern in California that companies would move to other states and this kind of a regional program will certainly help to minimize that,” said California’s Adams.
Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington and Utah are the U.S. members of the pact, along with Canada’s Manitoba and British Columbia.
“A regional cap...should ensure that all businesses in the region will operate on a level playing field,” said Christopher Busch, climate economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “A regional cap is a clear indication that the future for business is in cutting pollution, not escaping regulation.”
The United States is the largest greenhouse gas emitter, followed closely by China.
States in the U.S. East formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative pact starting in 2003. The group of 10 states seeks to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants starting in 2009.
Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner in New York
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