On Jan. 2, 2008, California led a group of more than a dozen states in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to deny a waiver that would have allowed the states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

The lawsuit kicked off a year in which states, cities and the business community moved to fill the void created by a perceived lack of federal leadership in battling climate change. We saw big promises and goals as companies sought to make their operations leaner,  take advantage of the opportunities created by climate change with the addition of new products and services, and begin moving to reduce associated risks, such as phasing out dealings with carbon-intensive interests. Meanwhile, non-governmental organizations stepped up to help businesses find their footing while reminding us how far we have to go.

In looking back over the past year’s coverage on ClimateBiz.com, it was difficult to settle on just five themes or trends that captured the entirety of climate change's impact on business. There are many threads woven throughout these five themes -- cleantech, carbon labels, electric cars, NGO partnerships, carbon trading, coal, ect. -- that will make more headlines in the New Year. In the meantime, here are some of the developments that have taken center stage on the pages of ClimateBiz.com.

States Take the Lead

The year was filled with legal wrangling between California and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, beginning with the EPA denial of a waiver that would have let the state regulate vehicle tailpipe emissions under the Clean Air Act in late 2007. The battle wasn't resolved in 2008 but California moved forward with its own climate change plans and, along with other states, laid the groundwork for what will likely become a national greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.

California crafted a strategy that will serve as a guide for implementing the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, or AB 32, which mandates the state reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The cornerstone of the plan rests on a cap-and-trade scheme that will touch nearly every sector of the state’s economy, bolstered by land use changes that discourage urban sprawl, a boost in its renewable energy mix to 33 percent, and a low carbon fuel standard, among other initiatives.  

But the state didn’t walk alone in its efforts. More than a dozen other states planned to adopt California’s strict vehicle emissions regulations and planned their own strategies to reduce emissions. Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have partnered with California for the Western Climate Initiative, which will create a regional greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system that aims to reduce emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

On the other side of the country, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont launched the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, another regional cap-and-trade scheme covering the power generation sector. The system saw two successful auctions of carbon permits, raising $38.6 million in September and $106.5 million in December for energy efficiency projects throughout the region.

The system is a work in progress and has its share of critics pointing out the cap is set higher than actual emissions levels during previous years. But it offers a chance for U.S. companies to gain experience with the system and begin factoring carbon into their budgeting. "This is like Spring Training in baseball before the real games begin," Terry Tamminen, an advisor of Pegasus Capital and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, told ClimateBiz in September.

Companies, such as Southern California Edison, are moving to position themselves to take advantage of a future where carbon dioxide pollution comes with a price. The utility offered a slew of emissions reduction projects ahead of California’s climate change rules in the hopes that its early actions will yield rewards when the greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system takes effect in 2012.

Businesses Call for Climate Action

Earlier this year, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership voiced its support for a national greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program while Congress debated the ill-fated Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008. Leaders of 100 of the world’s largest firms then called for political leaders from around the world to deliver a strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2050.

The calls grew louder as Nike, Starbucks, Sun Microsystems, Levi Strauss and Timberland joined Ceres to create Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, a coalition that will lobby Washington for comprehensive climate change legislation, including phasing out new coal power plants unless they use carbon capture and storage technology, doubling the historic energy efficiency rate and slashing greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

A group of California businesses joined together to voice support for California’s climate change plan while AT&T offered its assistance to the EPA to find ways of cutting emissions using the innovation of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, pointing a recent study that ICT-related solutions have the potential of reducing emissions by as much as 22 percent by 2020.