California Issues Unprecedented North American Climate Goal

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Just two hours ago, California Governor Jerry Brown raised the bar for the rest of the US, Mexico, and yet-uncommitted Canada on limiting climate change. Brown issued an executive order to reduce California GHGs by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Governor Brown meets with California mayors yesterday about the drought (Facebook/KSEE24).
Governor Brown meets with California mayors yesterday about the drought (Facebook/KSEE24).

Over four terms as governor, Brown has occupied the forefront of efforts by state governors to confront climate change. The state’s two-year-old cap-and-trade program and other climate-friendly policies have already set California GHG emissions on a downward course.

The new carbon reduction goal, which Brown calls the most aggressive GHG target by any North American government to date, eclipses even the one President Obama announced for the nation along with China’s pledge last fall (a CO2 emissions cut of 28% below 2005 levels by 2030). It matches the goal of the European Union. Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, Canada, says she applauds Governor Brown’s continued leadership on climate change, citing it as a confirmation that regional governments can play a very important role in shaping strong global agreement.

Ari Phillips reports in ThinkProgress:

“California’s planned reduction falls between the state’s 2020 goal of reducing GHGs to 1990 levels, and a long-term 2050 goal of reducing GHGs by 80 percent under 1990 levels. It also falls in line with the goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.”

Brown plans to lower California GHGs by increasing the role of renewable energy to 50% by the same date. As Brown stated in his January inaugural address, he also aims reduce petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50%, double the efficiency of existing buildings, and make heating fuel use cleaner. The government will also incorporate climate impacts into all future infrastructure and state agency planning and investments.

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Says Chris Busch, Director of Research at Energy Innovation:

“Today’s executive order is another step toward a safe climate future, and further proof that environmental quality can go hand-in-hand with economic growth. California has been emboldened by progress since AB 32 [the California Global Warming Solutions Act] was adopted in 2006. In the years since then, emissions have fallen by 6%.”

During the same period of time, the state’s economy grew by 9%. “EI’s analysis of emissions trends and cap levels shows reductions of the type that will be needed, through 2020 and beyond to 2030, [and] will be affordable,” Busch says. In its March policy recommendation paper, EI called for California to reduce its GHG emissions to at least this level. See all of EI’s recent California policy work, including detailed electricity sector recommendations, here.

California has much at stake in holding back climate change. The state has entered its fourth year of ruinous drought, which climate forecasters are calling a new normal. Water rationing has become commonplace, and for the second year state lawmakers have had to produce a billion-dollar emergency drought relief plan.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim comments:

“Four consecutive years of exceptional drought has brought home the harsh reality of rising global temperatures to the communities and businesses of California. There can be no substitute for aggressive national targets to reduce harmful greenhouse emissions, but the decision today by Governor Brown to set a 40% reduction target for 2030 is an example of climate leadership that others must follow.”

The California pledge should inspire other states and localities. It will also improve the American contribution to world climate efforts (INDCs).  A major United Nations conference at the end of this year will finalize the first draft of the world plan. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, had this reaction:

“California’s announcement is a realization and a determination that will gladly resonate with other inspiring actions within the United States and around the globe. It is yet another reason for optimism in advance of the UN climate conference in Paris in December.”

In typically exuberant fashion, Brown commented that “taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels.”

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