California Just Made Climate Change History. How Did it Happen?

, Western states policy manager | August 26, 2016, 12:44 pm EDT
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The day before yesterday I sat in the gallery of the California Senate and saw something that just a few weeks ago I wasn’t expecting: Senators casting the final vote on an historic set of bills—Senate Bill 32 (Pavley) and Assembly Bill 197 (E. Garcia)—that reaffirm the state’s commitment to addressing climate change through 2030. After the vote was over, my colleagues and I shared hugs, smiles, and tears as the weight of the accomplishment washed over us. It was a great day.

There will be a time for a more thorough examination of how we achieved this victory, but here is my quick take of what just happened.

A referendum on California’s climate change policies

Followers of California climate change policy know that ten years ago, the state adopted a first-in-the-nation law to comprehensively tackle global warming by mandating a statewide reduction in heat-trapping pollution. That law, AB 32, requires that by 2020 statewide emissions be reduced to the equivalent of emissions in 1990. Fast forward to 2016, and we see that this policy has been an overwhelming success.

Success aside, 2020 is fast approaching. So last year Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order that established 2030 climate targets. However, the Governor’s action does not have the same weight or force of law as a legislative requirement. In addition, most observers recognized that a commitment of this significance ought to have the blessing of California’s legislature, and legislators rightly wanted to have their say.

Enter SB 32 and AB 197. SB 32 is simultaneously simple and sweeping. The bill codifies Governor Brown’s executive order by requiring heat-trapping emissions to be reduced to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Meanwhile, AB 197 takes steps to refine California’s climate change programs in two ways: it increases legislative oversight over and transparency to the state’s climate change programs and it emphasizes the state’s commitment to ensuring these policies help communities most impacted by climate change and air pollution. The two measures were double-joined, which meant that if one bill failed to pass the other could not go into effect.

Together these two bills became a referendum on California’s existing climate change programs. Passage would cement California’s commitment to leading the fight against global warming, while failure would have sent the message that California’s political leaders were divided on the issue.

A come-from-behind victory

In early August the conventional wisdom was that these bills were doomed to fail in 2016. Most people thought that the oil industry was too strong of a political opponent, and that a majority of legislators lacked the urgency to act. But, you just never know… So UCS, along with numerous other dedicated advocates, simply kept working. Over the last month we collectively turned up the heat and showed how much support there is for seriously addressing climate change in California.

Legislators heard from a diverse set of stakeholders who care deeply about the risks of global warming and the rewards of a clean energy economy. This included clean energy businesses, social justice advocates, environmentalists, labor leaders, faith-based organizations, public health advocates, consumer groups, and, yes, scientists. And, slowly, momentum started to build.

Legislators also saw that the voting public is hungry for meaningful action to address global warming. In late July there had been a Public Policy Institute of California poll showing that more than two-thirds of Californians support setting strong climate reduction goals for 2030. Tapping into this groundswell of support, UCS helped more than 4,000 Californians contact their legislators in the last month in support of SB 32 and AB 197, with other organizations doing the same. And the momentum kept building.

Soon major newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Fresno Bee, and San Francisco Chronicle, weighed in as well to urge legislative action this year. Our coalition of supporters kept meeting with legislators. Constituents kept emailing and phoning in. And the momentum built even more.

While there is no easy answer to what proved to be the difference-maker in this campaign, it is undeniable that this victory would have been impossible without the tremendous leadership of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia, and Senator Fran Pavley. Together, along with other key lawmakers, they helped convince their colleagues that this was an important vote that ought to occur this year.

And I’m so glad they did. Thanks to the collective work of so many, California’s commitment to addressing climate change is stronger than ever. We have much work ahead of us to successfully deliver on these commitments in a way that protects our climate while also addressing the needs of Californians, who deserve greater investment in economic opportunities and a cleaner environment.

But for a few more days we will simply say, hip-hip hooray!

Posted in: Global Warming Tags: , , , , , ,

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  • Matt

    How did we do it? Easy, we diverted things that generate CO2 to other states and countries. Instead of manufacturing a widget in California, we now manufacture it in China and ship it across the Pacific Ocean back to California. That reduces CO2 emissions in CA, but results in a net increase of CO2 emissions globally.

    We shut down coal power plants, which means that coal is now shipped across the ocean to other countries and burned in power plants with fewer emission controls than in the US. Again, that reduces CO2 emissions in CA, but increases them globally.

    We force oil wells in CA to shut down, which means more oil needs to be transported over long distances in to CA, again resulting in higher CO2 emissions globally.

    In other words, our actions have a zero net impact on global level and could very well be leading to higher CO2 emissions globally. But our policies give liberals a warm and fuzzy feeling inside and that’s all that really matters.

  • entrance

    The answer to this question is very simple: there are too many people on this earth. You don´t like this answer? But that´s it. People need energy, food and a lot of other things. And everything affects the climate. And the climate is just only one of all our problems. The more people, the easier and faster viruses can spread all over the world. The more people, the more food they need. But we don´t have enough place to produce it. 2050 everyone on this world will be affected by this fact. And the more people, the more wars and conflicts will happen. So we MUST try to reduce the world population. Some countries have already notices this proplem: china, india and some other countries in asia and africa. They already try different possibilities. But as far the results are hardly noticable. I am ready to help.

    • Don Graham

      You got the “Overshoot” correct. The “Collapse” started earlier than the expected 2024.

      One additional element – “The Poisoning of The Planet,” It’s oceans, weather systems, arable soils and food. The less resilient and adaptable that haven’t died are showing they are pretty stressed out. Some of the trees are in full fall colours, lots of fluttering seed pods, cones and leaves. The last El Nino didn’t have this reaction. Still a pleasant day for hammock reading for this Auld Phart.

  • veggiegrrrl

    we must ban all animal agriculture in california. ship all the livestock out to water rich states. grow only plants for direct human consumption. california water for humans, not the meat and dairy industry.

  • solodoctor

    DITTO from me! Way to go UCS and others who worked to get these two laws passed. I look forward to supporting efforts needed to implement these policies effectively in the months and years to come. My UCS membership is ‘worth its weight in gold.’

    • Jason Barbose

      Thanks for your kind words and your support! Yes, implementation will be key!

  • Don Graham

    Excellent news. Got the words in place.

    • Jason Barbose

      Funding is connected to the state’s cap-and-trade program and has yet to be resolved. An important detail!