The state of Illinois can now move beyond the limitations of the federal government to take action on climate change through carbon reduction. That’s because this week the Illinois State House of Representatives voted to repeal the Kyoto Protocol Act of 1998. Wait! Wasn’t the Kyoto Protocol an ambitious effort to reduce the human-created carbon emissions responsible for climate warming? Yes, but its impact was much less than many hoped, in part due to the absence of the United States from the pact.
On December 11, 1997, delegates from more than 150 countries signed the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement to lower the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. The Kyoto Protocol states that industrialized nations would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to below what they were in 1990.
Researchers today tend to conclude that the the United States did not become a party to Kyoto because the Clinton–Gore administration gave up on Senate ratification and, essentially, pushed for an agreement that would provide them a climate-friendly face. In large degree, the US retreat was a result of developing countries lack of involvement in the Kyoto Protocol. The US weakened the Protocol during negotiations by, among other things, downgrading a “clean development” compliance fund and advocating carbon market “flexibility mechanisms,” which subsequently failed.
Where did the US absence leave the states that were ready to comply with the stipulations within the Kyoto Protocol?
States and the Power to Exceed Government Climate Change Policy
In attempting to follow the US at a time when it seemed the federal government would support the international movement in Kyoto to attack climate change, the Illinois Kyoto Protocol Act (KPA) expressly prohibited Illinois from reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions beyond the goals set for the US in the Kyoto Protocol.
In 2001, however, the US withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, leaving Illinois tied to goals that the federal government no longer intended to meet. The KPA prohibited the state from creating restrictions for the “purpose of addressing the adverse effects of climate change which in whole or in part reduces emissions of greenhouse gases.”
The Illinois’ Kyoto Protocol Act stated, in part:
“Effective immediately, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pollution Control Board shall not propose or adopt any new rule for the intended purpose of addressing the adverse effects of climate change which in whole or in part reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, as those gases are defined by the Kyoto Protocol, from the residential, commercial, industrial, electric utility, or transportation sectors.”
We at CleanTechnica reached out to the Illinois Environmental Council and were able to get an interview with their executive director about the shift toward clean energy in Illinois as symbolized with the repeal of the KPA.
CT: How did the US refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol affect Illinois, due to the state’s enactment of the Kyoto Protocol Act?
Jen Walling, executive director, Illinois Environmental Council: The background is that the Kyoto Protocol created a situation in which the US was refusing to enter into any agreement about climate change. Illinois passed this KPA, which prevented limiting carbon.
There were just not enough votes in the legislature to block it at the time.
We think what is really significant about the vote to repeal the KPA that just happened is that it is the first time that the Illinois assembly has had a pro-climate change majority. Politically, this is indicating a sea change about the willingness to do something about climate change.
New Legislation Opens Up the Way to Carbon Reduction
The repeal of the KPA is big news. Illinois House Bill 3481, which is sponsored by State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D – Evanston), passed 66-44-1 with next stop at the Illinois Senate. HB3481 will immediately repeal state statute 415 ILCS 140/Kyoto Protocol Act of 1998. A Senate companion bill, (Senate Bill 2140) sponsored by State Sen. Laura Ellman (D – Naperville), also is destined for general assembly consideration this session.
By repealing the KPA, Illinois can now set its own greenhouse gas reduction goals.
CT: What is the potential for carbon reduction, now that the Kyoto Protocol Act has been repealed in Illinois?
Walling: The big thing that we’re interested in is the impact on the power and transportation sectors. While it is a process, it is easier for a statute (to introduce clean energy), as the authority does exist, so it may be easier to pass more legislation in the power sector. With the transportation sector, I do see that there may be some mobility to reduce carbon.
Next Steps for State-Led Climate Action and Carbon Reduction
“Illinois is ready to lead, and repealing our state’s Kyoto Protocol Act ensures that Illinois can lead while the Federal government continues to not take climate change seriously,” said Kady McFadden, Deputy Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. “For the good of our health and the strength of our economy, Illinois should double down on climate action by passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act.”
The Clean Energy Jobs Act (SB2132/ HB3624) would achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2030 in Illinois by putting the state on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2050 and reducing energy usage. The legislation places Illinois on a path to 100% renewable energy while growing the clean energy economy. It will seek to expand equitable access to public health, safety, a cleaner environment, quality jobs, and economic opportunities.
In a public statement, Walling noted that “a majority of the Illinois House supports action on climate change and reducing Illinois’ carbon emissions. This General Assembly, along with our pro-climate action Governor are set to lead the nation on tackling this issue.”
CT: What goals does the Clean Energy Jobs Act have for the next 5 years? How do you foresee that Illinois will begin to move toward those goals?
Walling: We just passed an act in Illinois which boosted our renewable energy with solar power. Providing more immediate impact in job growth in the next 5 years — that’s what will take place through this Act. The financing mechanisms that we are looking for through with this bill will provide more clean energy. Really, now we’re looking at the way the entire market is structured.
The Path to 100 Act will put Illinois on the path to 100% clean electricity and expand Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to 40% by 2030. The new legislation, which is being introduced in the Illinois Senate by Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago), builds on the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) designed to increase renewable energy deployment in the state. That legislation has helped the state develop several hundred megawatts of wind and solar across all segments of the market from utility-scale to rooftop solar.
Climate change is now affecting every US state and every country in the world. It is disrupting national economies, affecting lives, and accruing costs to people, infrastructures, and ways of life. Weather patterns are changing, sea levels are rising, weather events are becoming more extreme, and greenhouse gas emissions are now at their highest levels in history.
Illinois has recognized the fact of climate change and is doing something about it. With the Illinois legislature able to reach a majority consensus on the need for climate change action, the way is now paved for substantive movement toward clean energy implementation.
“The fact is that the Kyoto Protocol Act should never have been signed into law. In retrospect, it’s obviously short sighted, but even when it was passed in 1998, legislators should have seen it for what it was: a bill that only limited our state’s ability to make decisions and prepare for the future,” said Rep. Gabel. “I’m very proud to sponsor this repeal and empower Illinois to embrace the growing clean energy economy.”
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