Tackling a Global Challenge: California’s Climate Change Policy

“California’s Climate Change Policy: The Case of a Subnational State Actor Tackling a Global Challenge,” by Daniel A. Mazmanian, University of Southern California, John Jurewitz, Pomona College, and Hal Nelson, Claremont Graduate University, currently appears as one of the most frequently cited articles in “The Journal of Environment and Development,” based on citations to online articles from HighWire-hosted articles.

Professor Mazmanian has kindly provided some additional background information regarding the popular article from December 2008.

We are delighted to be asked to expound a bit on our motives and goals in writing about California’s ambitious climate change mitigation strategy. Based on the rather extraordinary attention that the policy, specifically AB32(2006), was receiving in the press at the time of our writing and in national and international policy discussions of climate policy, we felt that readers would appreciate knowing more about the substantive details of the policy. How was California going to accomplish what others were unprepared and unwilling to attempt? Also, we wanted to place this in the context of California’s long history of environmental policy entrepreneurship.

Yet, despite its tradition of environmental leadership, climate change mitigation poses unique pragmatic and conceptual challenges that lead us to question aloud the intelligence and implementability of the policy. Of particular concern is that the policy commits Californian’s to absorbing whatever the costs to its economic competitiveness and the pocketbooks of its citizens in order to reach the IPCC reduction goals for green house gases reductions. It does so through a combination of strong regulation and market incentives. The problem, as we saw it, is that the benefits of doing so could end up being only minimally reaped within the state, indeed, the greater the success in implementation could impose the greatest potential costs. In game theoretic language, thus, California chose to gamble that it could turn this risk to its own ends and that it would not end up being the ‘sucker’ in the climate change policy arena. Maybe, and as hopefully as we were personally, we felt the risk needed to be recognized. The policy is also unprecedented in that it declares that GHG reductions will be borne by all major sectors of the state, with the unprecedented implications for changing practices in business and industry, and individual behavior.

In the three years since first drafting the article, much has changed in the state and globally, in particular within the climate change policy arena. In light of this we are currently considering a follow on article that compares the decision-making process in climate change mitigation and adaptation policy in California, with likely implications well beyond the state.

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