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How California Is Tackling Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions

California Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would mean living on a planet that feels fewer impacts of climate change. A recently released UN report found that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Global net-human caused emissions of carbon would need to decrease by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

“The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5ºC are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I.

California a world leader on climate change action

One state is already taking unprecedented action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That state is California and in 2006 then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) into law. The bill required California to reduce its GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This year, California met the goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels. In 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that requires California to reduce its GHG emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

California is the sixth largest economy in the world, and a large portion of the state’s $170 billion in annual state revenue is used to buy goods and services that create high levels of GHG emissions. In 2013, CA’s 800 largest industrial facilities started tracking, reporting and reducing their GHG emissions. Although a good start, voluntary tracking is not enough.

Buy Clean California

Governor Brown signed AB 262 or Buy Clean California into law on October 15, 2017. Manufacturers in four building material sectors (carbon steel rebar, structural steel, flat glass, and mineral wool insulation board) will have to submit an Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) as part of their bids for work on state infrastructure construction and improvement projects starting on July 1, 2019. The EDP will disclose the GHG emissions for certain materials.

The bill also requires that by January 1, 2019 the Department of General Services must establish and publish in the State Contracting Manual a maximum acceptable global warming potential for each category of the four kinds of materials. By January 1, 2022, the DGS is required to review the maximum acceptable global warming potential for each category of materials, and every three years they would have to conduct another review. In addition, the awarding authority must specify for a bid that the “global warming potential for any eligible materials does not exceed the maximum global warming potential for that material determined by the department.”

The goal of the legislation, according to the U.S. Green Building Council-Los Angeles chapter (USGBC-LA), “is to spend California taxpayer money in a way that helps cut the pollution that causes climate change.” California spends more than $10 billion on infrastructure.

“There are smart manufacturers around the world—and especially in California—who have invested in strategies to reduce their climate pollution. Buy Clean helps California use its purchasing power to recognize the good actors,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.

Industry accounts for 22 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There is a political saying that as California goes, so goes the nation. If the federal government one day decided to require EDPs for federal contractors, emissions from the industrial sector could be reduced. While that will not happen under this administration, the next president just might make it happen. In the meantime, California is showing how a government can successfully implement climate change legislation.


Image credit: Fabrice Florin, courtesy Flickr

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