With the agreement signed between 195 countries in Paris over the weekend, global attention now turns to three things: the specific commitments made by each country in their individual plans (so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), monitoring and publication of progress toward each country’s carbon dioxide emission reductions, and what future commitments each country can make beyond today.
If a substantive success comes out of the Paris accord it will be due to the inclusion of emerging economies in the agreement. Commitments from China, India, and other countries with little or no carbon emission controls ensures that everybody is in the boat and rowing toward the same objective – something unachievable only a few short years ago. This is critical for Washington’s own efforts. Absent controls, the annual carbon emission reductions achieved by Washington State over the years have been wiped out in a day by China.
It also means that governments need to do a better job of measuring and projecting carbon emissions. If these measurements are going to provide the baseline data around which policy is debated and enacted, then we need to ensure they are as accurate as possible. Here, Washington’s Department of Ecology has a lot of room for improvement. In 2008, Washington committed to reaching a level of 88.4 million metric tons of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by the year 2020. The latest available measurements from DOE estimate 91.7 in 2011 – a mere 3.4% off the goal nine years prior to the deadline.
Washington’s GHG emissions have been on a clear downward trajectory since 2005, and DOE’s projections have been slowly reflecting the success Washington citizens and employers have had in reducing emissions.
Washington has adopted a considerable amount of new policy to drive down carbon emissions in the state, and the success is showing up in the data. As you can see from the table, DOE’s projections have been wildly overstated. In fact, between December 2007 and October 2013, the agency revised their 2020 GHG emission projections downward by 20 percent. With these types of fluctuations it is reasonable to question Gov. Inslee’s declarative statements that the state won’t meet its 2020 goal. In fact, the most recent 2011 data combined with the clear downward trend in emissions would lead you to the exact opposite conclusion.
So what about the 2035 goal? Here the table demonstrates DOE’s persistent overstatement of emissions and continued downward projections. In the three years between the 2010 and 2013 projections, DOE reduced their estimates by 10 percent. How are others projecting emissions reductions in the 2035 timeframe?
Let’s look at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s most recent energy outlook, which measures projected carbon emissions from the electric sector – a regular target of Gov. Inslee’s top-down regulatory proposals. Between 2015 and 2035, the NWPCC projects that emissions will go from 55 million metric tons of CO2 down to 34 – a decrease of 38 percent. Granted, this projection measures electric sector emissions from the region – defined as Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana. But, we will surely see this type of reduction from Washington with the planned shutdown of the state’s sole remaining coal plant and growing low-carbon electricity generation.
If we are going to allow goals and projections to drive policy development, then it’s fair to scrutinize the data closely. Washington families, farmers, workers and employers have embraced the goal of reducing carbon emissions, and that is showing up in the numbers. This has been accomplished through collaboration and innovation, not top-down regulatory proposals. If Gov. Inslee continues to push policies intended to drive up the cost of gas and heat for Washington families, the burden of proof should be on him to develop that case with better analysis.