Here’s my take on the biggest environmental victories in 2014:
5. Continuing strength of the electric vehicle market. Sales are going well, new models are being introduced, and automakers are on notice that this trend isn’t going away. No technology is more important for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions than electric drives, so let’s hope the progress continues.
4. Transportation fuels stay under California’s cap-and-trade program. There was some debate about whether or not fuels would stay under the cap, given oil-and-gas industry machinations and legislative action. But the California Legislature stayed strong. Including fuels under the cap will mean more auction revenue for climate-fighting strategies and a statement that gas prices should include at least some of the cost of pollution. Nationally, it means California is showing how to make a cap-and-trade program work without hurting the economy, providing a model for other states and one day the nation.
3. EPA’s clean power rule. It was long overdue and probably too weak, but the Obama Administration developed a power sector rule that gives states flexibility to innovate in how they reduce emissions from power plants. That can include more renewables but also more energy efficiency (of course, all this assumes the plan doesn’t get gutted in the courts). As states respond, the price of renewables will decrease and states can start to share markets to make further reductions.
2. Continued solar energy boom. Prices of panels are falling, the efficiency is increasing, and solar is now becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuels in some areas. This technology is a crucial part of the solution to decarbonize the electricity supply and enable electrified transportation.
1. Climate agreement with China. While the specifics of the deal were very weak, it’s a major symbolic and psychological victory that can be improved over time. China is the major emitter of carbon in the world, and they have now committed themselves to reducing these emissions. That sets up Paris in 2015 for a potentially meaningful international agreement and also bolsters arguments to reduce emissions here in the United States.
Honorable mention: the advent of cost-effective, viable energy storage deployment in California.
Happy New Year! Let’s hope 2015 brings even more progress as we race against time on climate change.