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California’s $19 Billion Carbon Market Falls Short in Fight to Curb Emissions

The marquee climate initiative has had little direct impact on greenhouse gases.

A refinery in Richmond, California.
A refinery in Richmond, California.Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

California’s carbon market was supposed to be a model for the US, harnessing the power of capitalism to fight climate change in the world’s fifth-biggest economy.

But nearly 10 years after “cap and trade” began, there’s little proof the system has had much direct impact on curbing planet-warming pollutants. California has seen big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions — but such gains have little to do with the much-vaunted carbon market. As officials debate how to reach the state’s goal of zeroing out emissions by 2045, critics on both sides of the political spectrum say the market isn’t working.