States implement strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

March 31, 2004

States implement strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

ANN ARBOR—An international agreement to control greenhouse gases is in tatters, but state-level environmental policies could take a lead role, a University of Michigan professor says.

The United States, which generates one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, is not participating in solving the problem, nor are large developing nations such as China and India, said Barry Rabe, a professor in both the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

However, an increasing number of American states are quietly developing a growing set of policies designed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This may lead the way to new models for responding to the challenge of climate change, Rabe says in a newly released book, "Statehouse and Greenhouse: The Emerging Politics of American Climate Change Policy."

"The conventional thinking on climate change is that only national governments and international regimes have a role to play," Rabe said. "However, many states generate huge amounts of greenhouse gases and actually control many of the policies—such as electricity regulation—that may directly influence levels of American emissions. So it should not be surprising that states are, in many instances, taking a lead role."

The fragility of the agreement, called the Kyoto Protocol, is enhanced by uncertain participation of other nations such as Russia. Meanwhile, other possible methods for America to take the lead in greenhouse gas reduction remain deadlocked in Congress.

In his new book, Rabe examines the evolution of state-level government policies on global climate change, giving detailed cases on policies designed to combat global warming. The book provides an overview of all 50 states but focuses intensively on a set of 12 diverse states, examining the types of policies being enacted and the factors prompting them to act in the face of federal disengagement.

The United States generates about 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide and methane.

The continued accumulation of these gases poses numerous climate threats to the U.S., as well as all other nations, Rabe said. Besides the gradual increase in average world temperatures, disruptions could include sea level rise, huge shifts in agricultural productivity and changing patterns for disease transmission. Indeed, a recent Pentagon study suggests that climate change is considered a national security threat that warrants a serious set of policy responses.

State policies have addressed numerous sectors, such as energy, air quality regulation, transportation, agriculture and forestry. Not all states are engaged on this issue and some, such as Michigan, have taken few if any steps, according to Rabe. But nearly one-third of the American population lives in a state with multiple greenhouse gas reduction initiatives, and the number of states beginning to experiment in this arena grows monthly. These policies exist in every region of the country and tend to defy traditional partisan divides, he said.

In the book, Rabe contends that these state experiences could point the way to an alternative policy architecture for the United States as well as other nations that are now struggling with translation of international agreements into actual policies. He also explores the larger lessons for future distribution of regulatory authority between federal and state governments.