California has done surprisingly well over the last decade and has achieved many of its major goals in the area of climate change, even though the economy has been growing steadily.
But now, as Australia burns, global temperatures continue to rise, and the Trump government prepares to take the final steps to get the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, California is failing where it needs to be for its more ambitious goals for 2030, according to a new report released Thursday.
And whether the state succeeds has major implications for the rest of the nation and other countries, which often copy California’s environmental laws.
“Many other places are looking at California to see what seems feasible and smart,” said Chris Busch, an economist at Energy Innovation, a San Francisco think tank who released the report. “To the extent that California continues to project optimism and a can-do spirit that echoes throughout the world.”
When burning fossil fuels such as gasoline, diesel and coal, carbon dioxide is released, which traps heat in the atmosphere, similar to a greenhouse. A milestone goal by former Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 to reduce California’s CO2 emissions below 1990 levels by 2020 was achieved four years earlier. And what about the state’s plan to generate 33% of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable energy by this year? Completed two years ago.
California has even done more to combat climate change than any other state.
Due to the laws that encourage electric vehicles, renewable energy and other clean technologies, carbon dioxide emissions peaked in California in 2004 and decreased by 14% in 2017, the most recent year when full data is available. That decline came though the population of the state grew by 3.4 million people at the same time – the equivalent of adding new cities the size of today’s San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, with millions of new cars and trucks.
But the next goal will be much harder to achieve.
In 2017, former Jerry Brown government signed a law obliging California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 by 1990. Other states and countries are looking into whether that is possible.
To achieve the goal, California will have to nearly double its current emission reduction – from around 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in the last decade to 13 million tonnes per year – in the coming decade.
“We are not on the right track,” said Busch. “But there are opportunities.”
Thursday’s report contains six important recommendations. Among them: increasing the state’s renewable electricity target to 67% by 2030, from the current target of 60%. Also reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the cement industry, the largest remaining coal user in California, and raising the minimum price for permits that industries must purchase under state cap and trade legislation to emit greenhouse gases.
They will not all be easy. The report calls for the goal of the state electric car to be expanded from 7.5 million in 2030 to the current target of 5 million. Currently there are 640,000 on the road all over the state.
State officials say they welcome the report and suggestions. They say they don’t necessarily disagree with math. But they note that the California Air Resources Board is monitoring greenhouse gas emissions very closely and publishes a report every five years, a so-called scoping plan, about where the state is and what additional steps it needs to take to achieve its climate goals.
For example, the most recent plan of the Air Force, issued in 2017, calls for tightening California’s low-carbon fuel standard, expanding programs to reduce methane emissions from dairy farms, expanding urban tree planting and the amount of carbon that industry can release. under the cap and trade program.
“We are confident that if our plan comes true, we will reach the 2030 goal,” said Rajinder Sahota, head of climate programs for the Air Resources Board. “But there are always legal uncertainties and other challenges. We need to record those things and find out if we need to make adjustments. “
Among the uncertainties: whether the Trump administration will succeed in its current legal battle to reverse California’s emission standards for new vehicles. Cars and trucks make up about a third of greenhouse gas emissions in California.
The wider problem is complicated, but the math is fairly simple. To achieve the 2030 target, California must reduce its emissions to 259 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. In 2017, the most recent annual data available, the state emitted 424 million. That sounds daunting. But at its peak in 2004, the state emitted 494 million.
Experts who did not help write Thursday’s report said that some recommendations are practical and economically feasible, while others are politically or technologically difficult.
Jim Sweeney, director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University, said it is feasible to increase the price of CO2 permits in the cap-and-trade program, making it more expensive to pollute. It is also possible to increase California’s renewable energy targets and drastically expand the use of electric heat pumps in new home construction to replace gas ovens and boilers, another report recommendation.
But a significant increase in the number of electric cars “partly depends on who is elected president,” he said. And reduce emissions from the cement and oil industries by capturing and storing underground carbon, or by using solar thermal technology instead of natural gas to make steam used in oil drilling, as the report insists, “is a huge rack, “which depends on unproven technology, he said.
Some recent plans by the state, such as building denser dwellings on bus and rail lines to reduce car use, have stalled amidst political opposition from neighborhoods and local city officials, he noted.
Bottom line, Sweeney said, it may not matter if California misses its 2030 target a few percent, because California only emits about 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The most important thing, he said, is that California continues to function as a laboratory for new laws, rules and technologies, many of which have been adopted in other states, and even other countries, such as China.
“In my opinion, the most important thing that California has made is models that other states and the federal government can take over,” he said. “We have shown other states that you can go far beyond what they thought you could do.”