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Fabian Nunez

12 September 2006
Fabian Nunez

Fabian Nunez (Speaker, California Assembly) is the co-author (with Fran Pavley) of bill AB 32, which the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has signalled he will sign. We spoke with him about the bill which puts a cap on California's greenhouse gas emissions and creates a clear path for a market-based system and other mechanisms to bring the state's emissions back down to 1990 levels by 2020. The bill's language provides the state with the flexibility to work with business and the public to craft appropriate measures to achieve this reduction.

The passage of AB 32 is a landmark event in the US and international climate policy. Can you describe the key elements of the bill that make it such a groundbreaking act?

AB 32 is the first framework for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the country which has mandatory reporting for the biggest emitters and mandatory reductions. This is not a goal, this is a mandate that by the year 2020 all of these industries are going to have to be at their 1990 levels of emissions, equivalent to a reduction of around 25%.

Do you think it will be possible to achieve the 2020 reduction target?

Absolutely. Not only do I think it's do-able, I think that by and large most emitters will be able to reach that target by efficiencies alone.

What type of signal do you think the bill sends to the Federal Government about action on climate change?

I think it sends a message to the Federal Government that it's time for our country to act as a leader in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions around the globe. If the US is going to go around the globe and right all the wrongs, this is clearly one of the things that hits right at the sustainability of this planet, and the fact that our country is asleep at the wheel is a very sad tale. This is a bottom up fight - other states will follow California's lead and ultimately the Federal Government will have to act.

Will this action happen soon?

There's no question that this issue will be galvanised not only by other states, but also by the environmental community throughout the country demanding that the government do the right thing. If you look at polling data in this country over 70% of Americans already believe that we need to do something about climate change.

What do you say to claims that the legislation will drive business from California?

This legislation will not drive business out of California; in fact, I think it's going to create business opportunities for our economy in this state. We have pioneered energy efficiency programs, we have pioneered renewable energy and clean car technology, and I believe that we are now positioned to provide the energy solutions of the future. If you look at the study that was recently produced by UC Berkeley on AB 32, this indicates that in the next 8 years this bill will create over 17,000 jobs, and spur more than $5 billion of investment in innovation in clean technology. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

California is a world leader in innovation, how significant will this track record be in aiding the reductions required by AB 32?

One of the advantages that we have here in California is Silicon Valley, which has become, in some ways, the innovation factory of the world. We think that the innovation in clean fuels and clean technologies is something that can happen very quickly, in the next four or five years. I think we can produce efficient and effective clean technology that will be competitive with carbon technology in that timeframe. The goal of course is for California to ultimately show this country that we can reduce emissions and still be in business.

Speaker, you attended the Climate and Energy Roundtable with business and government leaders on July 31. What do you think was the take home message from that event?

The message I bought home is that there are a lot of good corporate citizens in this economy that really want to do the right thing. Another of the key things I left there with is that we need to create a clear path for a market-based mechanism, allowing for a cap and trade system to be utilised in a way that can help bring down emissions and hit the targets. Although we don't mandate the market mechanism in the bill we do set a clear path that would allow such a system to operate and to function.

The next step will be the regulatory process - the phase that develops the specifics for bill compliance. What type of compliance mechanisms do you foresee?

The compliance mechanism is going to be important; in fact the entire governance of this new system of emissions reductions will happen at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) which has a lot of history in regulating different types of gases. CARB will put in place the regulations and we feel very comfortable that as a public Board, there will be public input and public hearings. So all this will happen in the open, which is important.

How hopeful are you that other states will follow in California's footsteps in writing reductions into law?

My hope is that other states will follow the California example and will look to the goal of achieving strict mandatory reductions and we are happy to help them in this process. From the response we've been getting from many other states I already believe that this is very do-able. California, as you know, is the fifth largest economy in the world, and we are also the 12th largest emitter of greenhouses gases. If California, with its place in the global economy, can do this and do it successfully, so too can other states. We've already taken action on clean air and tailpipe emissions - you name it, we've done it, and our economy continues to hold strong. It isn't mutually exclusive to have a strong economy and have a green economy as well. So we look forward to continuing down this path, and we're excited about what the future holds for California and for the rest of the country.

The views presented in the Viewpoint Series are not necessarily representative of the views of The Climate Group.

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