The three West Coast governors-Arnold Shwarzenegger of California, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, and Gary Locke of Washington—are moving forward with a global warming initiative first initialed by ex-governor Gray Davis of California. And their policy advisors have assembled a first batch of plans for public comment. Read and comment here.

Unfortunately, boldness is largely absent from the first draft. The proposals are modest gestures like buying hybrid cars for state motor pools, turning off ship engines while they’re in port, and shutting down long-haul trucks while they’re parked overnight at truck stops. The most ambitious moves are to propose cooperation on state building codes and appliance standards to boost energy efficiency, plus coordination on state utility rules called “portfolio standards” and “public benefit rules” that speed the use of windpower and other climate-friendly energy sources.

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  • Don’t get me wrong. The world will be a much better place for accomplishing these things. But they’re a pittance compared to what’s required to stabilize climate—or to what places such as the United Kingdom have promised. Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to slash emissions by 60 percent by 2050. Across the English Channel in Brussels, the European Union is in the midst of fractious debates about exactly how to control its own emissions within the timetable of international treaties. The EU’s problems are monumental and its plans are arguably inadequate, but just the existence of the debate sets the timidity of our governors’ initial offering in relief.

    In the Northeast, eight states are designing a regional cap-and-trade marketplace for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants. The Western governors could join in or, better, go beyond their Eastern peers by establishing a coastwide marketplace for emissions reductions from all sources and GHG sequestration. Public dollars spent on this exercise might catalyze even more action in the private sector.

    Or perhaps the states could coordinate the creation of a uniform protocol and accounting framework for state-funded GHG reduction spending, then begin issuing GHG requests for proposals. Any individual, company, nonprofit, or local government could then offer—bid, actually—to provide verifiable reductions or sequestrations of GHGs. This kind of approach would tap the creativity of tens of thousands of decentralized, informed, profit-motivated market actors to execute solutions.

    Two innovative efforts in the region have already demonstrated the potential of such incentive-driven, market-savvy systems for climate protection. The Pacific Forest Trust of Santa Rosa, California, arranges deals between property owners willing to leave their land in old forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, and polluters willing to pay to mitigate their emissions. The nonprofit Climate Trust in Portland supports efforts ranging from energy efficiency to tree planting, using funds—more than $10 million since 1997—that it receives from new power plants forced to offset their greenhouse gas emissions to comply with state law. From 1998 to 2002, the Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Trading Pilot, based in Victoria, BC, kept tens of millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere by brokering trades between companies willing to emit less and those willing to pay more. Many of the lessons learned in the process went into creation of Canada’s plan for complying with the Kyoto protocol.

    The Northwest, with California, is well positioned to show leadership on this issue. We stand to lose as muchormore than anybody from climate change. And our economy has an emerging clean-energy sector that can compete and win, both at home and abroad, in the century ahead. Dozens of Northwest companies and communities are already taking action.

    Let’s look forward to a second draft that recognizes this potential.