This week Governor Brown signed legislation that introduces truly radical levels of climate change policy. The legislation signed by the governor on Wednesday requires the state to cut emissions at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and invest in the communities hardest hit by climate change.
“Climate change is real, and knowing that, California is taking action,” said Governor Brown. “SB 32 and AB 197 are far-reaching moves that continue California on its path of vast innovation and environmental resilience.”
The legislation comes ten years after the sweeping AB 32, which was the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 – as sweeping as that legislation was at the time, California is actually, according to a release from the governor’s office, “on track to meet or exceed the current target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.”
The governor signed SB 32 by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and AB 197 by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella).
The release noted, “The new 2030 requirement in SB 32 will help make it possible to reach the ultimate goal of reducing emissions 80 percent under 1990 levels by 2050.”
“With its Clean Car Law in 2002 and the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006, California took a global lead in adopting policies to clear the air, transition to clean energy and reduce climate pollution,” said Senator Pavley. “Those policies have fueled billions of dollars in private investment and spawned a thriving clean-energy sector. SB 32 sends an unmistakable message that California is resolute in its commitment to remain on that healthy and prosperous course.”
“In order for California to remain an economic and environmental leader the state will need to also be a trailblazer on issues related to equity,” said Assemblymember Garcia. “Placing the health and economic impacts of climate policy on vulnerable populations second will stunt the state’s prosperity.”
AB 197 establishes a legislative committee on climate change policies to help continue to ensure the state’s actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are conducted with transparency and accountability.
“Today is a proud day for California,” said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León. “Together we redoubled our commitment to global climate leadership and building the clean energy economy of tomorrow, while ensuring environmental justice so all Californians benefit from our climate policies.”
“SB 32 extends California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction goals. AB 197 changes the game on how we make sure those goals are reached,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. “The successful effort behind these two bills is the latest sign of a growing consensus that protecting the environment and improving public health are inextricably linked and that maintaining that link is key to advancing future environmental actions. The Assembly–where AB 32 was passed 10 years ago–will be vigilant and vigorous in making sure California’s climate change goals are met, and are met as we all intended.”
It is difficult to overestimate just how radical these proposals actually are. The U.S. has become bogged down in a debate over whether climate change is due to emissions generated by human industry or whether the perceived warming is due instead to natural cycles.
The truth is that California only emits about one percent of the world’s greenhouse gases – although, given its population, that’s certainly more than its share. However, California is playing a leading role in curbing emissions.
The signing comes at an interesting time. On Wednesday, the New York Times ran a story quoting President Obama calling the trends of a warming planet “terrifying.”
“What makes climate change difficult is that it is not an instantaneous catastrophic event,” he said. “It’s a slow-moving issue that, on a day-to-day basis, people don’t experience and don’t see.”
But the U.S. cannot do this alone, which is why it was key that the U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, have announced they will formally ratify the Paris climate change agreement. Analysts believe this is a significant advance in the battle against global warming.
“Just as I believe the Paris agreement will ultimately prove to be a turning point for our planet, I believe that history will judge today’s efforts as pivotal,” said President Obama. “Where there is a will and there is a vision and where countries like China and the United States are prepared to show leadership and to lead by example, it is possible for us to create a world that is more secure, more prosperous and more free than the one that was left for us.”
The commitment from China is critical. President Xi Jinping announced that China would ratify the Paris accord, with the Chinese president vowing to “unwaveringly pursue sustainable development.”
“Our response to climate change bears on the future of our people and the well-being of mankind,” President Xi said, according to the Associated Press.
What California is doing is not going to change the world by itself. Instead, what it is doing is far more radical and audacious. By looking to cut emissions by 40 percent and 80 percent, it is attempting to prove to the world that drastic emission cuts are not only possible but desirable, as a way to stave off the worst impacts of global warming.
The key question will be whether California can achieve this while enjoying the type of strong economic growth the state is accustomed to having. And the stakes will be extremely high. A 40 percent reduction is no longer picking off low-hanging fruit. It is no longer riding the wave of wind and solar energy while putting more electric cars on the road.
It will ultimately mean something far far more radical, which will require the state and ultimately the nation and the world to reshape every aspect of the economy, and indeed our lifestyles themselves.
Are we ready to do that? Hard to believe that many people realize just how radical this move is. But it might be the only way to save ourselves.
—David M. Greenwald reporting