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California’s behind on its 2030 climate goals. What’s at stake if it doesn’t catch up?

California has done surprisingly well over the past decade meeting many of its big climate change goals, even as its economy has steadily grown.

But now, as Australia burns, global temperatures continue to rise, and the Trump administration prepares to take the final steps this year to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, California is falling short of where it needs to be to hit its more ambitious 2030 targets, according to a new report released Thursday.

And whether or not the state succeeds has big impacts across the rest of the nation and other countries, which often copy California’s environmental laws.

“A lot of other places are looking to California to see what seems feasible and smart,” said Chris Busch, an economist with Energy Innovation, a San Francisco think tank that issued the report. “To the extent that California continues to project optimism and a can-do spirit, that reverberates around the world.”

Burning fossil fuels like gasoline, diesel and coal releases carbon dioxide, which traps heat in the atmosphere, similar to a greenhouse. A landmark goal set by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 to reduce California’s carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2020 was accomplished four years early. And the state’s plan to generate 33% of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable energy by this year? Already accomplished, two years ago.

In fact, California has done more to combat climate change than any other state.

Because of its laws encouraging electric vehicles, renewable energy and other clean technologies, emissions of carbon dioxide peaked in California in 2004 and fell 14% by 2017, the most recent year that complete data is available. That drop came even though the state’s population grew over over the same time by 3.4 million people — the equivalent of adding new cities the size of present-day San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, with millions of new cars and trucks.

But the next target will be much more difficult to reach.

In 2017, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Other states and countries are watching to see if that’s possible.

To meet the target, California will have to nearly double its current rate of emissions reductions — from about 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year over the past decade to 13 million metric tons a year — in the decade ahead.

“We’re not on track,” Busch said. “But there are opportunities.”

Thursday’s report makes six major recommendations. Among them: increasing the state’s renewable electricity target to 67% by 2030, from the current goal of 60%. Also, cracking down on emissions of greenhouse gases from the cement industry, the largest remaining user of coal in California, and raising the minimum price for permits that industries must purchase under the state’s cap-and-trade law to emit greenhouse gases.

Not all of them will be easy. The report calls for expanding the state’s electric vehicle goal from to 7.5 million in 2030 from the current goal of 5 million. Currently, there are 640,000 on the road statewide.

State officials say they welcome the report and its suggestions. They say they don’t necessarily disagree with its math. But they note that the California Air Resources Board tracks greenhouse gas emissions very closely and issues a report every five years, called a scoping plan, about where the state is and what additional steps it needs to make to reach its climate targets.

The air board’s most recent plan, issued in 2017, for example, calls for tightening California’s low-carbon fuel standard, expanding programs to reduce methane emissions from dairy farms, expanding urban tree-planting, and lowering the amount of carbon that industry can release under the cap-and-trade program.

“We’re confident that if our plan comes to fruition that we’ll hit the 2030 target,” said Rajinder Sahota, division chief for climate programs for the Air Resources Board. “But there are always legal uncertainties and other challenges. We have to incorporate those things and figure out whether we need to make adjustments.”

Among the uncertainties: Whether the Trump administration will succeed in its current legal battle to roll back California’s emissions standards for new vehicles. Cars and trucks make up about one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions in California.

The wider issue is complicated, but the math is fairly simple. To hit the 2030 goal, California must cut its emissions to 259 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. In 2017, the most recent year data is available, the state emitted 424 million. That sounds daunting. But at its peak in 2004, the state emitted 494 million.

Experts who didn’t help write Thursday’s report said some of the recommendations are practical and economically feasible, while others are politically or technologically difficult.

Jim Sweeney, director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University, said it’s feasible to raise the price of carbon permits in the cap-and-trade program, making it more expensive to pollute. It’s also possible to boost California’s renewable energy targets, and to dramatically expand the use of electric heat pumps in new home construction to replace gas furnaces and water heaters, another one of the report’s recommendations.

But significantly expanding the number of electric cars “partly depends who is elected president,” he said. And cutting emissions from the cement industry and oil industry by capturing and storing carbon underground, or using solar thermal technology instead of natural gas to make steam used in oil drilling, as the report urges, “is a massive stretch,” that relies on unproven technology, he said.

Some of the state’s recent plans, like building denser housing on bus and rail lines to reduce car use, have stalled amid political opposition from neighborhoods and local city officials, he noted.

Bottom line, said Sweeney: It may not matter if California misses its 2030 target by a few percent because California only emits about 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. What matters most, he said, is that California continues to function as a laboratory for new laws, rules and technologies, many of which have been adopted in other states, and even other nations, like China.

“In my mind the most significant thing is that California has created models that other states and the federal government can adopt,” he said. “We’ve shown other states you can go well beyond what they thought you could do.”


Source: East Bay California’s behind on its 2030 climate goals. What’s at stake if it doesn’t catch up?

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