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Cap-and-Cry: California's Global Warming Program (avoided warming of 0.005°C by 2050 under CARB regulations)

By Chip Knappenberger -- November 3, 2011

“… the total is 0.00476°C (0.0086°F) of global warming avoided by the California cap-and-trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions out to the year 2050. Such numbers strain the limits of detectability within our current observing systems, not to mention environmental significance.”

With the California Air Resource Board’s (CARB) recent announcement that they have finalized their greenhouse gas cap and trade regulations, California becomes the first state to have, according to the CARB’s chairperson Mary Nichols, “done something important” on the issue of climate change.

Ms. Nichols couldn’t be further from the truth. While CARB may have done “something important” for many things in California (not all of which may prove positive), climate change isn’t one of them.

If the emissions targets under the CARB cap and trade program as it is scheduled to the year 2020 are met, the total amount of global temperature rise that would be avoided amounts to 0.00015°C (or for those who prefer English units, 0.00027°F). You read that right, one and a half ten-thousandths of a degree Celsius.

If CARB’s cap-and-trade program continues to be the primary mechanism by which to enforce the 80%-below-1990-emissions-by-2050 target legislated under California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (aka, Assembly Bill 32, or AB 32), then assuming a business-as-usual (BAU) baseline, the amount of global warming avoided amounts to 0.00476°C (0.0086°F)—a bit less than five thousandths of a degree Celsius (just under one one-hundredths of a degree Fahrenhiet).

This all amounts to a lot of “nothing” for doing “something.”

By the Numbers

Let’s review how I come up with such an inconsequential climate effect from what, by anyone’s reckoning, will require a very consequential amount of effort.

Basically you need to have two pieces of information: 1) the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions savings that the cap and trade program is projected to produce, and 2) how emissions savings translates to reducing global temperatures.

A handy derivation of the latter quantity can be found in some work I published over at the web site World Climate Report a few years ago in an article titled “What You Can(’t) Do About Global Warming”. In that article, I combine observations of global temperature change with observations of changes in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to determine that it takes ~1,767,250 million metric ton of anthropogenic CO2-equivalent (mmtCO2eq) emissions to raise the global average temperature 1.0°C. The elegance of this calculation is that since I derive it strictly from observations, it inherently incorporates all phenomena which influence it (that is, it is insensitive to debates as to the exact value of the climate sensitivity, or other uncertainties in our understanding).

And assuming that things keep working into the future as they have in the past, this number—1,767,250 mmtCO2eq to produce 1°C—is reasonably applicable for assessing the climate impact of proposed emissions savings (there is room to quibble about this assumption, but it is quite reasonable, at least for the time scale of the next several decades). As such, it is a useful number to have handy.

In fact, I would suggest that all policymakers (even those would-be ones) write it down and tape it to their computer monitors. Then after dreaming up ideas as to how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they can divide their proposed emissions reductions (in units of mmtCO2-eq) by 1,767,250 to get the influence on global temperature (in degrees C). My guess is that they would be shocked at what they find (and then proceed anyway without drawing attention to the (climate) ineffectiveness of their ideas).

As to the cumulative emissions reductions from the CARB cap and trade program, I derive a few numbers from the details of the program contained at various places on the CARB website. The “cap” of the cap and trade program is defined starting in the year 2013 and continuing to the year 2020. During the first two years, only electricity suppliers and large industries emitting more than 25,000 mmtCO2eq/yr are included in the program, then starting in 2015, fuel suppliers come under the regulations.

By then, 85% of California greenhouse gas emissions (in terms of CO2 equivalents) fall under the cap and trade regulations. Cumulatively, the program will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 267 mmtCO2eq from the CARB business-as-usual emissions baseline projections for California from 2013 to 2020.

After that, the cap and trade targets are not set, however, as cap and trade is the centerpiece of the strategy to meet the goals of AB32, I can assume that it will be used to continue to screw down California’s emissions out to the year 2050. There have been a few attempts at developing a BAU scenario for California greenhouse gas emission out to the year 2050, and the generally they project that California, without regulations, would be producing somewhere in the neighborhood of 850mmt CO2eq/yr up from today’s levels of about 470 mmtCO2eq. So, linearly reducing the emissions from this baseline down to a total of 80% below the 1990 emissions level (or 85.4 mmtCO2eq) yields a cumulative (from 2021-2050) greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 8,150 mmtCO2eq.

With these numbers in hand, we can now calculate the amount of global temperature rise that would be avoided had these emissions actually occurred. To do so, we divide the cumulative emissions savings by 1,767,250 mmtCO2eq/°C.

For the scheduled part of the cap and trade program (from 2013 out to 2020), we get 267 mmtCO2eq divided by 1,767,250 mmtCO2eq/°C equals 0.00015°C of avoided warming. Assuming the program continues through 2050 (and the BAU emissions scenario as a baseline), we get an additional 8,150 mmtCO2eq divided by 1,767,250 mmtCO2eq/°C which equals 0.00461°C of avoided warming. Adding the two together, the total is 0.00476°C (0.0086°F) of global warming avoided by the California cap-and-trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions out to the year 2050.

Such numbers strain the limits of detectability within our current observing systems, not to mention environmental significance.

It is not that the cap and trade program, if successful, would not result in large emissions savings from California, it is just that relative to current global greenhouse gas emissions (not to mention the projected large emissions increases from developing nations like China and India) any greenhouse gases emissions from California (whether reduced or not) are a non-issue.

A First Step?

Now, some folks will contend that the efforts of California are only meant to show the rest of the country the way forward, and California should be praised as leaders into a clean energy future. In fact, the editors of the New York Times, are such folk. After lauding California for its cap and trade program, the Times ultimately concludes:

By themselves, local measures are never going to solve the climate change problem. That requires a global response, and the battle will never be fully joined without the United States. At the very least, California provides proof that bold action on a large scale is still possible even though Washington remains sadly gridlocked.

It’ll be interesting to see how the “bold” action goes over if “bold” results don’t follow.

As I have shown above, no matter how long we wait, the rest of America (and the the rest of the world), will never be able to see any bold impacts to the climate from California’s cap and trade system. Therefore, I imagine that the real focus will be on whether or not California is able to take its greenhouse gas emissions in one direction and its economy in the other. If they are able to pull that off, they indeed will be have made a bold achievement.

At this point in time, their chance at success is debatable.


  1. two points  

    Simply put (we need simple!), AGW is BS because 1) contrary to Gore’s assertions, ice core records show that Co2 has NOT driven temperature (Co2 lags, rising 800 years after temp increases), and 2) as indicated by the corrected NON-Hockey Stick graph, there is nothing unusual about current temps.

    So, there is no evidence that CA’s self-destructive action will “save” the world even .00015 of a degree. Madness it is.


  2. Ed Reid  

    There are two unstated issues which must be mentioned here. First, the estimated temperature reduction is not a reduction in absolute temperature, but rather a reduction from what the temperature might otherwise have been, had CA not reduced its emissions. Second, the estimated temperature reduction assumes that CA energy users would not move their energy consuming activities to jurisdictions without carbon emissions controls, including jurisdictions in which energy is not used as efficiently or as cleanly as in the US.


  3. cknappenberger  

    Ed Reid,

    You are correct on both counts. I tried to use the term “avoided” warming to indicate that any emissions reductions acheived in California (or elsewhere for that matter) don’t actually reduce the actual temperature, but rather slow the rate of temperature rise.

    And getting energy from elsewhere (that is not subject to the same restrictions) is part of the “leakage” problem, which almost certainly will plague local emissions reduction efforts. I don’t have a quantification of the amount of estimated leakage for the California cap and trade program, but perhaps others do?



  4. How much temperature increase will California Air Resource Board’s Global Warming Program avoid? | JunkScience.com  

    […] Cap-and-Cry: California’s Global Warming Program (avoided warming of 0.005°C by 2050 under CARB r… “… the total is 0.00476°C (0.0086°F) of global warming avoided by the California cap-and-trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions out to the year 2050. Such numbers strain the limits of detectability within our current observing systems, not to mention environmental significance.” […]


  5. cactusbob  

    And yet there are “good” folks that will be thrilled that whatever the cost might be, the fact that something is being done is good, regardless that it can’t be measured by your elbow and won’t alter the imagined effects of global warming (or climate change). Gore is rich, so he must know what he’s talking about (but wait, he’s gotten rich by marketing cap and trade … hmmmmm). Follow the money.


  6. Henri Suyderhoud  

    JunkScience.com and Cactusbob hit it perfectly on the nail. The alarmists suffer severely from what has been termed “Confirmation bias” by a British scientist. In other words, they are so biased in their pseudo-scientific thinking, that a meaningless fraction of a fraction of a degree of temperature change is accepted as a worthwhile result. Actually, I don’t think CO2 has any influence on the temperature , just note the lack of the correlation between T and CO2 over the past 14 years. If there is causation, correlation should have been positive. It just isn’t so. Tough! Even .00476 C is wrong, it only exists in the formulas, not in reality. CA is waisting money and a chance for some prosperity.


  7. David Appell  

    Of course, by Chip’s faulty reasoning all of us should stop paying our taxes, because any one of us only contributes about 2 parts per billion of federal revenue. Who would ever notice that loss?

    Or I can commit murder without consequence, because it would only be one more murder and it would scarcely change the US murder rate. Who will notice another one with 15,000/yr already?

    [Snip] So why do you present arguments like the above?


  8. David Appell  

    two points wrote:
    AGW is BS because 1) contrary to Gore’s assertions, ice core records show that Co2 has NOT driven temperature (Co2 lags, rising 800 years after temp increases),



    In any case, past analogies do not apply now, because humans are unnaturally perturbing the climate system by artificially injecting CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s more like a carbon-laden comet is colliding in slow motion with the earth (over a span of about 200 yrs) than that the earth is simply adjusting to a natural change of temperature.


  9. two points  

    In comment #8 above, David Appell gives a link to try to obscure the fact that CO2 is NOT historically correlated as a causative factor with warming.

    The link itself illustrates how alarmists, when unable to support their positions, often fall back on verbose obfuscations. First off, the link simply confirms my point! They note: “changes in CO2 follow changes in temperatures by about 600 to 1000 years.” Then, buried in the verbiage, comes the key unsupported (by ANY evidence!) assertion: “this [heat induced release of C02 from the oceans] amplifies the warming trend.” Again, no evidence of amplification is provided, anywhere.

    Face it, CO2 makes up a very minor part of the climate picture. True, CO2 makes up only 1 in 2500 parts of the atmosphere… it is a far cry from the thick glass greenhouse shield that warmist propaganda portrays. While the sundry factors that affect climate eludes precise quantification, one can appeal to common sense in making the point that the trace gas CO2 is dwarfed in importance, on all timescales, by other variable and clearly more powerful elements such as the sun, oceans and atmospheric dynamics, clouds, and much more.

    Common sense logic does not support any role for CO2 in driving climate changes. Neither does the historical evidence. I beg anyone to provide a rebuttal to this that will stand scrutiny.


  10. Tom Tanton  

    Chip, leakage is not just from getting “energy” from outside California. For every ton of cement we import from Arizona, and every piece of fruit from South America and every electronic gadget from Asia, NET global emissions increase.


  11. Doug Hanes  

    Qing-Bin Lu proved CO2 had no effect on Global Warming. Journal of Cosmology 6-10. I was caused by man using CFCs for AC and hairspray and lots of things. It’s a plastic gas. We wrapped the earth in plastic and it got hot. Yes, it’s multiple peer reviewed.


  12. California climate rules to have negligible impact… | The Drinking Water Advisor  

    […] on lowering global temperatures…..a reduction of 0.005C compared to no rules by 2050….click here for discussion…. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]


  13. GoFigure  

    Muller’s data (“BEST” project) includes information which he did not make public until pressed which shows no temperature increase from 1998 to 2011. (whereas the level of CO2 has continued to increase.) Muller’s “analysis” showed a temperature increase for the period from 1950 to about 2000. However, there was a well known cooling period from the 40s to the 70s, (just ask any of those who, in the 70s, were “ice-age alarmists”, and that fraternity included Holdren, Obama’science adviser).

    One might therefore suspect, that – comparisons between a starting point which is during a recognized cold period to some later date outside that period would likely show an increasing temperature across that time period.


  14. How Severe an Impact Would the Keystone XL Pipeline have on the Environment? | RefineryNews.com  

    […] a previous Master Resource article, I calculated, based on observations of CO2 emissions and temperature changes during the past 50 […]


  15. How Much Warming Will the President’s Plan Avert? (Hint: It’s way too small to be detected or verified)  

    […] Institute climatologist Chip Knappenberger provides a plausible way to calculate the global warming mitigation effect of any CO2 reduction […]


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