California has a strong reputation as a national and international climate leader. However, despite its impressive achievements in cutting carbon emissions between 2006-2016, it has started to lose its way.
California is falling behind in its emission reduction targets. California’s existing policies are now considered inadequate to reach its 2030 target of reducing carbon emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. according to new modelingEnergy Innovation is a climate policy think tank.
“Compared to historical trends, California will need to more than triple the pace of emissions reductions to hit its 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030,” the Energy Innovation report states.
The report is disappointing news, representing a weakening of the climate action that began with California’s passage of AB 32 in 2006. AB 32, also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act was a landmark program in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emission. California was the second most greenhouse gas-emitting state, while the United States was the largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world up to 2006.
California was required to reduce its statewide emissions to 1990 levels in accordance with AB 32. This was to be done by 2020. It also required that California’s greenhouse gas emissions be cut to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The law was implemented by the California Air Resources Board, which was established in 1967.
California achieved its goal of reducing emissions to 1990 by 2020 four years earlier than expected. As a follow-up to AB 32, lawmakers passed SB 32 in 2016. SB 32 requires the California Air Resources Board to ensure the state’s greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to 40 percent below the 1990 levels by 2030.
Surprisingly enough, however, California’s emission reduction efforts appeared to lose momentum after SB 32 was signed into law.
Unsurprisingly, an environmental group gave California a nearly failing grade for the climate crisis in 2021. This was the first time that California Environmental Voters, or EnviroVoters, gave a “D” mark to the state since the group began issuing its annual scorecard in 1973.
What explains California’s woeful progress on climate solutions?
For one, California hasn’t enacted any transformative climate bills over the past 4 years. Perhaps there is a connection between California’s recent inaction on the climate crisis and the fact that fossil fuel companies “spent four times as much as environmental advocacy groups and almost six times as much as clean energy firms on lobbying efforts in California between 2018 and 2021,” according to Capital & Main.
California lawmakers are failing in California to advance bills that include deep climate change initiatives. When a new bill AB 1395, a net-zero bill co-authored by Assembly Members Al Muratsuchi and Cristina Garcia, was introduced on the last day of last year’s legislative session, it was resoundingly defeated. It would have codified in law the state’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible and by no later than 2045. It was opposed in part by the oil and natural gas sector, the agricultural industries and business groups.
California’s clean-air regulators are also relying on programs and strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are of questionable nature, according to experts. The California Air Resources Board published in May a proposal titled a scoping planThis ignores the urgent need to act and heavily relies on carbon dioxide removal technology to reach the 2045 carbon neutrality goal. “The plan does California a disservice,” said one state advisor, while more than 70 environmental justice groups called the proposal “A setback for both the state and the global economy.”
In a state known for its progressive politics, transformative pieces of legislation are being discarded. Recently, the California Justice40 Act (AB 2419), introduced by Assembly Member Isaac Bryan, was killed in Senate Appropriations Committee. This bill would have ensured equitable implementations of infrastructure investments. The bill aimed to achieve environmental justice by investing at least 40 percent of federal climate and infrastructure funding on projects that provide “direct benefits” to low-income, indigenous, and rural communities and communities of color. AB 2419 was supported by the California Green New Deal Coalition, and many other environmental organizations.
This legislation was crucial as it would have directly benefitted the most affected communities. In the United States, infrastructure policies have tended to encourage and worsen racial inequality. The Federal Housing Authority, for example, provided low-interest mortgages for white families during the New Deal but refused to provide mortgages to African American communities. Communities of color were designated as “risky areas.” The 1956 Interstate Highway Act intentionally displaced hundreds of thousands of low-income families and communities of color. A landmark 1987 report, entitled “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States,” revealed that race was the most significant indicator for the location of toxic waste sites.
A study released by the Gender Equity Policy Institute found that, if enacted, AB 2419 “would powerfully advance gender and racial equality in California.” The report estimated that six in ten residents of the state could benefit from infrastructure investments targeted to low-income and disadvantaged communities. The bill would be beneficial to women of color, who are more likely live in low-income and polluted areas. Indeed, in the San Francisco Bay area, 1.3 million women of color would benefit from AB 2419’s targeted investments, and in southern California 3.2 million women of color who live in heavily polluted communities would benefit, the report said.
But it was not enough. The bill was obviously too “radical” even for the Democratic members in the Senate’s Appropriations Committee.
California is an example of how being a liberal country is not enough to make progress in combating climate change. Money talks. The policy agenda can be easily hijacked by powerful interest groups. It is important to remember the role of bureaucrats when it comes down to matters of critical importance for society. The California Air Resources Board’s view on carbon removal technology represents in reality a form of continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.
The irony is that California has at its disposal a comprehensive climate stabilization program that includes climate justice and economic growth, courtesy of a group of progressive economists at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Robert Pollin and his coworkers created a commissioned program last year. demonstrates that California can achieve its official greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by 2030Zero emissions by 2045. They also showed that the program can serve as a powerful new engine of job creation and ensure a just transition for the state’s fossil fuel workers and communities.
The union movement in California supported the project. The program was supported in California by more than 20 unions, including a couple representing thousands oil workers. This does not mean that California doesn’t have viable transition projects, nor that labor unions are not involved in such projects. The only obstacles in California to a decarbonized future are politicians stuck in “piecemeal approach” mode and the influence of corporate lobbying on climate policies.