A Climate Action Roadmap: California Steps Up in Uncertain Times

, director, California & Western States | January 20, 2017, 12:07 pm EST
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The New Year ushers in a new U.S. presidential administration and a lot of uncertainty and angst for people who care about taking decisive action on climate change ( polls indicate that’s most of us.)  It’s not clear whether the incoming administration is willing to fulfill U.S. commitments for the Paris Climate Accord and since the nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has sued to overturn the Clean Power Plan, which dovetails with Trump campaign promises to kill the plan, it appears the signature federal policy actions of the last decade to tackle climate change are in grave danger.

Of course, UCS will fight hard any actions to reverse progress on climate change and we will also continue to work for further progress. But unfortunately, it looks like we’re heading into an era when climate action at the federal level will be on the defensive. Does this mean the end of U.S. climate action for the foreseeable future?

No way, would be my answer.  There’s a great deal that can be and is being done by states, regions, and cities to aggressively decarbonize our economy, notably our energy and transportation systems that are the source of the majority of emissions, and these actions can be very far-reaching indeed.

As has been true for well over the last decade, some of the most comprehensive and aggressive climate action is being taken by California, currently the world’s sixth largest economy.  California is not alone, as Oregon and Washington made impressive progress to address climate change last year and are poised to do more, and the three west coast states together could well be on the verge of creating a strong, prosperous regional bulwark in the national struggle to address climate change. I will address the actions and opportunities in the Pacific Northwest in future blogs.

A New Roadmap for Deep Decarbonization

Image result for sb 32 signing

Governor Jerry Brown signs SB 32 and AB 197 into law, adopting the nation’s strongest carbon emissions reductions in the country, surrounded by SB 32 bill author state Senator Fran Pavley and AB 197 author Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia and other legislators.

In 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown created an executive order  to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and last year the State Legislature passed a pair of bills, SB 32 (Pavley) and AB 197 (E. Garcia) that Governor Brown signed in September 2016, giving those targets the force of law.  And now, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is about to publish the roadmap to guide California on how it will achieve and enforce those reductions.

This roadmap, called the 2030 Target Scoping Plan, covers the entire economy and includes specific sectors like energy, transportation, water, agriculture, and manufacturing.  The 2030 Target Scoping Plan is enormous in its range and ambition, building on the success of California’s previous law to reduce global warming pollution emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a goal that the state is currently on track to achieve.

The 2030 Scoping Plan lays out a future where the state is powered largely by clean renewable energy, transported by electric vehicles and fueled by low-carbon and non-fossil alternatives to oil-based fuels, and where energy efficiency and sustainable water management reduce greenhouse gas emissions while saving consumers money.  It ramps up requirements for the dirtiest emitters, and recommends a price on carbon (a continuation of the state’s cap-and-trade program) to help achieve some of the most difficult and expensive reductions at lower cost.  And it seeks to ensure that frontline communities that have already suffered a disproportionate burden from pollution get cleaner air and tools they need to meet the threats posed by climate change.

Reducing Emissions and Growing the Economy

These are the kinds of big-picture approaches the entire country and the world will need in order to tackle climate change. Having California – with a very large and complex economy and diverse population – demonstrate successful climate action is both timely and sorely needed.  Since passing its first economy-wide greenhouse gas reduction law in 2006, the state has already proven climate naysayers, who frequently oppose climate action with dire predictions of economic catastrophe, completely wrong by demonstrating that emissions can be reduced while growing the economy.

The last few years have seen disturbing signs of a dangerously changing climate, including record-breaking annual temperatures, wildfires destroying millions of acres of forests, extreme drought like the one in California, and increasingly rapid melting Arctic and Antarctic ice, which could trigger dangerous rates of sea level rise and other dire consequences for the planet.  Climate change is occurring faster than some had predicted, and it is already destroying lives and property, fueling wars and civil discord, and putting severe stress on local and national economies.  So the actions that California takes– bold, ambitious, and transformative– are necessary. The lessons we learn from paving the road to a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable, economy that lowers risk from climate change will have benefits far beyond the state’s borders.

Stay Tuned for Progress and Pushback

Of course, in such a large plan the devil is in the details, and with such a vast undertaking there are always improvements that can be made.  UCS has sent our comments on the 2030 Scoping Plan draft to the Air Resources Board in December describing ways the draft version of the plan could be strengthened to ensure California reduces emissions and builds resilience. My UCS colleagues Laura Wisland and Don Anair with expertise in specific sectors are also writing blogs describing our vision for achieving California’s climate goals by 2030 through a clean electricity grid and better transportation.

And, as usual, we will also need to work hard to thwart the inevitable pushback from opponents of climate action, especially those in the fossil fuel industry who are profiting from the status quo.  UCS will keep you apprised of when and where we need to stand up to those efforts.

We Must Seize the Moment to Achieve a Better Future

California’s climate goals present an opportunity to build a low-carbon economy that supports growth and innovation, enhances our health and quality of life, and lifts up disadvantaged communities that have suffered the most from the legacy of pollution. We now have a roadmap — it’s time to get moving. And we hope this roadmap can help inspire new journeys in other states, regions, and cities all over the nation for how we can make real and significant progress, regardless of what happens in Washington, DC.

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