How California's ambitious new climate plan could help speed energy transformation around the world
Published in Political News
California is embarking on an audacious new climate plan that aims to eliminate the state’s greenhouse gas footprint by 2045, and in the process, slash emissions far beyond its borders. The blueprint calls for massive transformations in industry, energy and transportation, as well as changes in institutions and human behaviors.
These transformations won’t be easy. Two years of developing the plan have exposed myriad challenges and tensions, including environmental justice, affordability and local rule.
For example, the San Francisco Fire Commission had prohibited batteries with more than 20 kilowatt-hours of power storage in homes, severely limiting the ability to store solar electricity from rooftop solar panels for all those times when the sun isn’t shining. More broadly, local opposition to new transmission lines, large-scale solar and wind facilities, substations for truck charging, and oil refinery conversions to produce renewable diesel will slow the transition.
I had a front row seat while the plan was prepared and vetted as a longtime board member of the California Air Resources Board, the state agency that oversees air pollution and climate control. And my chief contributor to this article, Rajinder Sahota, is deputy executive officer of the board, responsible for preparing the plan and navigating political land mines.
We believe California has a chance of succeeding, and in the process, showing the way for the rest of the world. Most of the needed policies are already in place.
What California does matters far beyond state lines.
California is close to being the world’s fourth-largest economy and has a history of adopting environmental requirements that are imitated across the United States and the world. California has the most ambitious zero-emission requirements in the world for cars, trucks and buses; the most ambitious low-carbon fuel requirements; one of the largest carbon cap-and-trade programs; and the most aggressive requirements for renewable electricity.
In the U.S., through peculiarities in national air pollution law, other states have replicated many of California’s regulations and programs so they can race ahead of national policies. States can either follow federal vehicle emissions standards or California’s stricter rules. There is no third option. An increasing number of states now follow California.
So, even though California contributes less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, if it sets a high bar, its many technical, institutional and behavioral innovations will likely spread and be transformative.
The new Scoping Plan lays out in considerable detail how California intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 48% below 1990 levels by 2030 and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.