If there is a bright side to the climate story in 2021, it is the expanding global acknowledgment of the urgency for climate action. What is needed now is a climate action model that communities and governments can replicate across the country. California climate action programs present that model. The state shows the nation how to take climate action while growing the economy, from its vehicle emission programs to its cap-and-trade program. California’s economy, the fifth largest globally, continues to grow while emissions are declining. A Bloomberg report in June 2021 found that California has the number one US economy. GDP increased 21 percent over the last five years.
California’s Transformative Climate Communities program
A recent evaluation of the state program, Transformative Climate Communities, found California is a climate action model. Created in 2016 by a state bill (AB 2722) and co-sponsored by The Greenlining Institute and the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the program provides planning grants to 18 communities to develop projects and eight implementation grants that enable projects to start.
Finding from the evaluation of the program shows that it drastically reduces carbon dioxide emissions. The communities with TCC projects are on track to reduce almost 200,000 metric tons of carbon over the next five years, equivalent to removing nearly 43,000 cars from the road. The evaluation also suggests replicating the program nationally.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
From 2006 onwards, California governors have either signed legislation into law or executive orders to reduce emissions:
- California established a voluntary emissions reporting program under Governor Gray Davis.
- In 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) into law, setting a statewide limit on greenhouse gas emissions.
- In 2016, the passage of SB 32 raised the goal for reducing emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
- In 2018, an executive order called for carbon neutrality throughout the state by 2045. The same year, SB 100 called for utilities to produce electricity from 60 percent renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045.
Vehicle emission standards
California has long been an environmental leader. The state began a mandatory vehicle smog check program in 1984 for vehicles manufactured in 1976 or later. The program came about as a result of legislation passed in 1982. Other vehicle emission legislation and standards include:
- In 2002, Governor Gray Davis signed AB 1493 into law. The law directed the state’s Clean Air Resources Board to adopt regulations that achieve cost-effective greenhouse gas emissions reductions from passenger vehicles. In 2005, CARB requested a waiver of preemption from the US EPA under the federal Clean Air Act to set its greenhouse gas emissions standards. The EPA denied the waiver. In 2009, several vehicle manufacturers, California, and the federal government committed to resolving current and future disputes over the standards through 2016. The agreement began a national program to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy from passenger vehicles.
- In 2010, CARB adopted regional per-capita greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for passenger vehicles from 2020 to 2035. The reduction targets for the four largest regions in the state are 13 to 16 percent from 2005 levels. The 15 smaller regions have lower targets.
- In 2020, California became the first state to set a target of 100 percent zero-emission vehicles in new car and SUV sales by 2035. Also, in 2020, the state set a zero-emission rule for heavy-duty trucks that require at least 60 percent of new commercial trucks to be either electric or powered by hydrogen fuel cells by 2035.
Statewide cap-and-trade program
California’s statewide cap-and-trade program launched in 2012 includes large electric power plants, industrial plants, and fuel distributors. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, it is one of the largest multi-sectoral emissions trading systems in the world. Around 450 businesses responsible for about 85 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions are required to comply.
California climate action plan for cities and counties
While the state government has climate change plans and programs, so do cities and counties. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, around 80 percent of California’s cities and counties are developing plans and programs to tackle climate change. For example, Los Angeles, the second-most populous city in the nation, has a climate change plan that includes 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, recycling 100 percent of wastewater by 2035. and divert 100 percent of waste from landfills by 2050.