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California Is Taking Climate Change Leadership to the Next Level

Jul 24, 2017 5 MIN. READ

Over the past few months, California has deepened its international relationships to emerge globally as one of the key sub-national actors on climate change policy.

With its more than 3,400 miles of shoreline, vulnerable freshwater supplies, and susceptibility to epic droughts and wildfires, California has plenty of reasons to worry about climate change. Never one to sit and stew, the state is determined to do something about it. For the past 19 years, California has led the country—and sometimes the world—in its ambitious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and build resilience to impacts. The last two months, however, have seen California shift its game to an entirely new level.

On July 25th, Governor Jerry Brown extended the GHG emissions cap-and-trade program until 2030, the signature piece in a suite of GHG emission reduction initiatives that California is using to drop to at least 40 percent below the 1990 level by 2030. Through June and July, California deepened its international relationships to emerge globally as one of the key sub-national actors on climate change policy. Read on to learn more about recent climate policy developments in California, including the state’s growing international role.

California’s Climate Change Policy Initiatives: A Look Back

Starting in 1988—when the state required the development of GHG inventories and studies of climate change impacts on its environment, industries, and economy—California has taken increasingly bold steps to reduce emissions while developing strategies to mitigate vulnerabilities and build resilience.

In 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-03-05 that established targets for reducing the state’s GHG emissions to their 2000 levels by 2010 (a goal that was achieved), reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (a reduction of approximately 30 percent that is on track), and reducing emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Ten years later, Governor Brown issued Executive Order EO-B-30-15, which sets an interim emissions target for 2030 at 40% below 1990 levels.

Since 2006, the state has enacted a suite of GHG mitigation measures mandated by the California Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill 32 (AB32, updated by Senate Bill 32 in 2016). Policy measures guided by the AB32 implementation plan, known as the Scoping Plan, include California’s cap-and-trade program, low-carbon transport fuel standards and promotion of electric vehicles, standards to increase renewable energy production, and aggressive energy efficiency programs—all coordinated by the state’s Climate Action Team. Each policy has its own specific set of targets, standards, and implementation measures. For example, California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) “requires retail sellers and publicly owned utilities to procure 50% of their electricity from eligible renewable energy resources by 2030.” The current 50 percent target marks an increase from the initial 20 percent target set in 2002. A bill introduced into the State Senate in May seeks to increase this target to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045.

California also understands that many impacts of climate change—rising sea levels, forest fires, droughts, and more—are inevitable, regardless of how much we reduce emissions. As a result, efforts are underway to embed climate change vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning across all key sectors of state government. Recent adaptation legislation aimed at specific sectors or issues will become increasingly connected through the state’s new Integrated California Adaptation and Resiliency Program.

ICF is proud of working to support California’s efforts to balance climate priorities with economic and social priorities since the late 1990s. Our support has included inventories of GHG emissions across the agricultural, waste, energy, transportation, and industrial sectors; developing estimates of marginal costs of emission reductions across a suite of strategies; assessing climate change vulnerabilities; and evaluating adaptation options.

Going Global

California has a long track record of coordination on climate change within the U.S. and around the world. Coordinated by the Intergovernmental Working Group for the Climate Action Team, California has direct bilateral climate action agreements with Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, India, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, and South Korea. If California were a country, it would have the sixth or seventh largest economy in the world—similar to that of France—so its international engagement is material.

California is also an active member of international climate change networks. It was one of the founding members of the Under2 Coalition, which is committed to limiting global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by reducing GHG emissions to 80-95 percent below 1990 levels, or below two annual metric tons per capita, by 2050 (California currently emits over 9 tons per person). Launched in 2015, the network has grown rapidly and now has 176 signatories and endorsements from 36 countries. My colleague, Cory Jemison, has written about ICF’s support for the Under2 Coalition on LinkedIn.

On June 1, the governors of California, New York, and Washington announced the creation of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a model similar to Under2 but focused on U.S. states. As of July 29, 13 U.S. states and Puerto Rico are members of the alliance, accounting for roughly one-third of the U.S. economy.

California’s growing global role is increasingly recognized by world leaders. Governor Brown was received by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on June 6. Governor Brown said that  President Xi welcomed an “increased role on the part of California” with respect to climate changeMore support for California came a week later when the German government committed to support California in its efforts to address climate change. Meeting Governor Brown in San Francisco, German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks emphasized the importance of collaboration: “We cannot achieve our climate goals without the engagement of local and regional communities.”

Additional support came on June 14, when Prime Minister Bainimarama of Fiji, president of the 2017 UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP23), appointed Governor Brown as special envoy for states and regions. “We look forward to Governor Brown's help in mobilizing like-minded leaders from around the world in support of our goal to achieve concrete outcomes at COP23,” Prime Minister Bainimarama said. Looking beyond COP23, on July 6, Governor Brown announced a Global Climate Action Summit scheduled for September 2018. The aim of the Summit is to bring together “leaders from government, business, and the global community to inspire greater global ambition to act on climate.”

The View Ahead

California’s state, county, and municipal levels of government continue to decarbonize and enhance climate resilience. Indeed, through the local, regional and state actions within California and through its international collaborations, California is cementing its role as a policy leader to states and regions around the world. An effective global leader can influence international policy and inspire others to follow in its footsteps, and these are exactly California’s ambitions. Climate change poses serious risks to California’s future, and the state has a lot to gain—not just environmentally, but economically—from global action to address the problem.

What do you think of California’s role in addressing climate change at home and internationally? How do you view California’s emerging role in implementation of the Paris Agreement? Please share your ideas on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Cory Jemison, Peter Schultz, Rich Walter, Randy Freed, Brad Hurley, and Tommy Hendrickson for reviewing earlier drafts. 

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