“Courage, Creativity, and Boldness” — A 2030 Target for California Climate Action

February 19, 2014 | 4:32 pm
Adrienne Alvord
Former Contributor

Midway through 2014’s very weird winter it might be easy for those of us who understand the need for urgent action on climate change to feel discouraged. A do-nothing Congress is virtually certain not to make progress on climate policy (or much else) any time soon, and international progress also seems chronically stalled. But there has been some good news recently out of the west.

The California Air Resources Board released a wonky-sounding document on February 10 called the AB 32 Scoping Plan Proposed First Update that documents and affirms the success of the state’s seven-year-old climate law, thus far, as well as detailing the need and feasibility of going much further by “establishing a broad framework for continued emission reductions beyond 2020, on the path to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.”  The Scoping Plan Update will be considered tomorrow by the Board, and the final version will be put before the Board later this spring.

This comes just three months after the governors of Washington, Oregon, and California and the premier of British Columbia signed on to a Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy that included a platform to “harmonize 2050 targets for greenhouse gas reductions and develop mid-term reductions targets needed to support long-term reduction goals.”

The best news you haven’t read in the paper

This progress demonstrates that it is possible to move forward on climate policy without waiting for federal action, and increasingly we are seeing the most exciting policy innovations on climate and energy coming from cities, states, and regions.

But the best news is something that hasn’t been covered in the media. After a decade of aggressive climate and energy laws in California that are now being fully implemented, including but not limited to the state’s tailpipe emissions reduction law, a strong and enforceable 33 percent renewable energy standard by 2020, and our landmark climate law, California’s economy is growing, with the fifth strongest GDP growth rate in the U.S. last year — well above the national average.

According to opponents of climate change policy, this is not supposed to happen. Low-carbon policies, they have claimed, were supposed to result in economic ruin, with thousands of jobs fleeing the state. But somehow, data from 2012 and 2013 show that California:

  • Leads the U.S. in job creation numbers;
  • Has the longest streak of private sector job growth since the recession;
  • Is the number one state for direct foreign investment; and
  • Had record exports in 2012.

And after years of budget deficits the state has finally achieved a balanced budget, a surplus “rainy day fund” and improved credit rating. As the Scoping Plan Update says, the ability to grow the economy while reducing emissions is “evidence of California’s ability to show that it is possible to break the historical connection between economic growth and associated increases in energy demand, combustion of carbon-intensive resources, and pollution.”

The science case for more aggressive action: A 2030 target

As state and regional action makes clear, it is possible to take aggressive and effective action without sacrificing the economy, or waiting for a federal law or international treaty to solve our problems. In fact, the states are becoming laboratories for good climate policy. And the urgency of this action has never been clearer.

In UCS’s comments to CARB on how they might strengthen the draft Scoping Plan Update, we recommended that the climate science portion be updated and made more robust. CARB responded in the revised version of the Update with a detailed section on the latest climate science that clearly demonstrates the need for more concerted action to reduce emissions, citing evidence that “some climate change impacts are occurring faster and with more severity than previously predicted.”

UCS is helping to amplify the science-based case for deeper emissions reductions by organizing a letter from over 100 state scientists, researchers, and economists, including some of our most distinguished climate science and energy policy experts. The letter is addressed to the governor and state legislators, praises the state’s leadership on climate change policy, and also urges policy makers to continue to make the deeper reductions we will need to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The letter ends with a plea for stronger action:

“To achieve the steep reductions necessary to limit the worst impacts of climate change, lawmakers and regulators should adopt and implement enforceable emissions caps for 2030 and beyond. Every sector involved in addressing climate change, from energy to transportation, will need sufficient time to prepare to meet new targets. The longer we wait the harder and more costly it will be. Please begin now to set a science-based, heat-trapping emissions target for 2030.”

At a time when climate action seems dormant in much of the world, this call to action should be a source of hope and renewed commitment. It is also sure to provoke a harsh response from some fossil fuel interests, who will no doubt increase their intense lobbying to slow, stop, and reverse progress.

But as Governor Brown said, meeting this challenge will require “courage, creativity, and boldness.” Brown also noted, “Our collective challenge is to build the future, not steal from it.” Following through on creating a lower emissions target for 2030 will help ensure that we can attain a better future, and we should not and cannot wait.