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California Highlights Progress, Previews Next Steps on Achieving Climate Goals

Alex Jackson

Posted October 2, 2013

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California’s new roadmap for reducing carbon pollution shows that the state is on track to cut emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, and spotlights how the state’s leadership is helping spur action by others around the world to tackle this global problem. But the updated roadmap falls short on identifying concrete next steps for California to stay on track over the following decade.

The California Air Resources Board released a draft of the new Scoping Plan this week, originally adopted in 2008 to guide implementation of California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). The plan sets out to answer three questions:

  • What has California achieved so far?
  • What is needed to maintain the state’s progress out to 2020?
  • And what steps need to be taken now to keep California on track toward achieving its long-term emissions reduction goals?

California On Track to Meet 2020 Limit

The draft paints a compelling picture of California’s tremendous progress in reducing emissions, ramping up clean energy, improving public health, and laying the groundwork to achieve AB 32’s 2020 pollution limit.

A few highlights from the draft:

  • Statewide emissions are down 12 million metric tons or 2.7 percent since 2000, even as California added nearly 4 million additional residents over the same time period;
  • Annual black carbon emissions (a powerful, short-lived climate pollutant and toxic air pollutant emitted from burning coal, diesel and biomass) in California decreased an estimated 70 percent between 1990 and 2010;
  • California’s low carbon fuel standard has helped to displace 2 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel – the equivalent of taking half a million vehicles off the road;
  • California’s advanced clean cars program, developed in collaboration with the federal government, will cut emissions from new passenger vehicles in 2025 by half compared to today’s fleet mix;
  • California leads the nation in solar PV capacity, and is the nation’s second largest producer of wind power; and
  • Since the 1970s, Californians have saved $74 billion in electricity costs thanks to more energy efficient homes, businesses and appliances.

Scoping Plan blog image.jpg

California’s Leadership is Driving Broader Action

The draft also spotlights the effect California’s leadership has had on spurring climate action beyond its borders. Nationally, California paved the way for federal standards to limit emissions from both cars and power plants – the two largest contributors of carbon pollution in the U.S. Globally, California has signed a series of agreements with China and Australia to expand bilateral cooperation on climate change, and will link its carbon market with Quebec starting next year. 

Good Start but More Work Ahead

While the draft paints a broad picture of key opportunities and challenges on the road ahead, it falls short on identifying concrete next steps for California to stay on track. The draft includes a few important action items – including extending the cap-and-trade program out to 2030 and developing a comprehensive strategy to identify, monitor and reduce short-lived climate pollutants like methane and black carbon.

But in other areas the draft could be improved. It calls on the state to establish a midpoint reduction target in 2030, but lacks any recommendation, timeline or process for setting the target. It calls on the state to prepare an energy plan that will facilitate achievement of California’s long-term climate goals, but presents mostly a menu of objectives rather than recommendations on what the plan should entail, or what emission reduction it should achieve by 2030. And it identifies a wide range of potential investments for cap-and-trade auction proceeds, but offers little direction on what funding strategies the state should prioritize among the many contenders.

As the draft notes, we can ill afford to delay: emissions from 2020 to 2050 will need to decline at more than twice the rate needed to achieve the 2020 reduction target, and investments in new power plants, roads or other infrastructure will begin locking in emissions for the next generation.

The Impetus for Action

As the impacts of climate change hit home in California and around the world, California’s leadership in developing an effective and enduring model to reduce carbon pollution is more pressing than ever. The Scoping Plan is California’s one-stop-shop for those efforts. The update process provides the ideal forum for the state to plan and coordinate the specific actions California needs to take to keep moving toward a clean energy future.

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Davis SwanOct 4 2013 03:57 PM

I admire California on many fronts and applaud everything they are doing with regards to conservation, pollution standards for automobiles and support for renewables (in particular CSP). But I think we need to be objective in our analysis. From 2000-2008 GHG emissions increased at about the same pace as population growth. It was the financial meltdown in 2008-2009 that let to slower growth, less industrial activity, and less disposable income that cut energy use so drastically. It will be interesting to see the trend once CA starts to experience strong economic growth. Having said that they will always be leaders and a role model for others to follow.

Alex JacksonOct 4 2013 04:56 PM

Davis, thanks for the comment. You are correct the recession was the dominant factor in the precipitous drop in emissions from 2008-2009, as seen in the chart above. Indeed ARB revised its business-as-usual emissions forecast in 2020 downward by 50 MMT as a result. But California has continued to lower emissions at a steady clip every year since, most notably in the electricity sector, where's the state's aggressive renewable and energy efficiency policies are having a real impact.

And with a hard declining cap on 85% of the state's emissions, California's model is designed to ensure that trend continues even as the economy picks up.

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