California Shows the World How to Stave Off a Climate Catastrophe

Gov. Jerry Brown sets a bold greenhouse gas emissions target and urges other states and nations to follow.

(Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Apr 29, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered steep new cuts in California’s greenhouse gas emissions in a move to show that states and regions can lead the fight against climate change absent a global agreement to stave off catastrophe.

The governor’s executive order cuts greenhouse gas emissions in the world’s seventh-largest economy 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached—for this generation and generations to come,” Brown said in a statement.

The new targets align California with goals already established by the European Union. And while the plan is bold, Brown was short on specifics on how the cuts will be made.

That’s where the scientists come in. In a study released on Tuesday by the nonprofit group Next10, researchers looked at how various policies—all of which would meet the state’s ultimate goal of an 80 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050—would affect California’s bottom line.

The seven policy options studied, ranging from “progressive/ambitious” cuts to “gradual/deferred” levels, all resulted in “net positive economic benefits for Californians,” the study’s lead author and University of California, Berkeley, professor David Roland-Holst said in a statement. “But the most powerful economic and employment stimulus comes from moving quickly and aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The faster the state cuts carbon dioxide emissions, the greater the economic impact, the study found. The most ambitious plan would create more than 1 million jobs and increase the gross state product by 6 percent, or $338 billion, by 2050, according to the report.

The nonprofit’s report suggests Brown’s goals could be met by limiting emissions under California’s cap-and-trade program to 250 million metric tons of C02 (MMTC02e) by 2030, compared with the current target of 407 MMTC02e.

That could be achieved if the state obtains half of its electricity from renewable sources and replaces a quarter of fossil-fuel-burning cars with zero emission electric cars by 2030. To achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, all new car sales would have to be zero-emission by 2050.

“We have to really restructure the entire transportation and electric power system in this state,” Roland-Holst told Public News Service. “Because we just can’t continue with the fossil-fuel consumption pattern and get the emissions down.”

California is on pace to meet a target of reducing emissions below 1990 levels by 2020. That’s no small feat, given that the state’s economy has doubled in size over the past two decades.

“The first phase of A.B. 32 [the state’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act] compliance was, frankly speaking, easier than many imagined,” Next10 researchers wrote in the report. “But looking ahead, we must acknowledge that even greater determination and creativity will be needed to reach the 2050 milestone.”

Said Roland-Holst: “The idea that there’s a trade-off between economic growth and environment is really a fallacy, and California has kind of proven that.”