Reality Check: Are California's Carbon Emissions Goals Attainable? - NBC Bay Area
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Reality Check: Are California's Carbon Emissions Goals Attainable?

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    Reality Check: CA Carbon Emissions

    Gov. Jerry Brown announced new carbon emission standards that are as ambitious as any in the world. In this edition of Reality Check, Sam Brock examines whether the governor has promised more than California can deliver. (Published Monday, May 4, 2015)

    California Governor Jerry Brown announced last week a new plan for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The executive order calls on the Golden State to decrease carbon emission rates by 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030.

    “I’ve set a very high bar, but it’s a bar we must meet,” the governor told onlookers when he announced the executive order last week.

    The goal sets a national precedent and is on par with the benchmark set in place by the European Union last year — the most ambitious target in the world.

    Executive orders aren’t technically law, but rather set mandates around which legislation can be written.

    The proposal will serve as an interim goal established by the governor as the state works toward reaching its target of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

    That’s the more long term plan laid out in Senate Bill 32, legislation introduced by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) at the end of last year.

    What does the governor’s announcement mean for the state? Getting halfway to that 2050 benchmark within the next 15 years.

    Has the governor set the bar too high, or is this simply an expression of his faith in California’s climate change policy?

    “This is basically saying we need a new industrial revolution,” Dan Kammen, Professor of Energy at UC Berkeley told NBC Bay Area. “The last one took about 150 years. Now we need to do it between now and 2050.”

    Kammen says despite the ambitious target, the state can reach the governor’s goal, but getting there by 2030 isn’t going to be easy.

    California has already begun plucking at the ‘low hanging fruit’ to bring carbon levels down, like incentivizing cleaner cars, implementing stingier fuel standards and promoting renewable energies—the state sources 24 percent of its power from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal power. In light of the governor’s new demand, Kammen says California must majorly increase its use of these technologies, and leverage them in new ways.

    “Finding ways to do these things together is really kind of the magic of California innovation on the technical and policy side,” he said. “Because the more we can find opportunities to do both of these things together, like electric vehicles charged up by solar, wind and other renewables, that means that you win twice over. That’s literally a win-win strategy.”

    According to figures from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state’s carbon emissions dropped nearly 7 percent between 2004 and 2012, the year that data is most recently available. If the state keeps at the same rate, it will actually beat the 2020 carbon emissions benchmark set forth by CARB.

    So for now, California is ahead of the game in making carbon reductions.

    But the real challenge as meeting Governor Brown’s benchmark comes into action will be convincing everyday citizens to play a significant role in cutting back on emissions, said Abby Young, Climate Policy Manager at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

    Most of the energy nationwide — around 70 percent — is consumed in buildings, and the Bay Area is home to a number of older office spaces and residential properties. Due to their age, these types of buildings are rarely energy efficient.

    While requirements have been established for new construction to meet energy efficiency standards, real progress could mean state and local governments incentivizing homeowners to jump on board with retrofitting their homes, Young said. That means installing solar panels and taking other steps to increase energy efficiency, she added.

    “What’s great about the governor making this kind of bold statement is it motivates and inspires…individuals to realize how important the individual behaviors and actions they take every day are to helping the state meet this goal,” Young said.

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