“I think every Californian today knows we’re in a climate emergency,” said Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. “And so what we are doing today takes on added importance and urgency.”
He spoke as the California Air Resources Board opened a hearing on a bi-decade updated plan that sets out a climate change roadmap for the state. This year’s plan focuses on achieving carbon neutrality by 2045, meaning the state would remove as much carbon from the air as it emits.
The timetable is among the most ambitious in the country and the world, but the proposal has many critics beyond the oil industry. A wide range of environmental advocates say the plan does too little to rapidly reduce global warming emissions.
“How we reach our climate goals matters as much as when we reach them, and we need a plan for real zero, not net zero,” said Climate Change Advisory Board member Catherine Garoupa White. environmental justice of the plan and executive director of the Central Coalition for Valley Air Quality.
California is often touted as a leader in US climate policy and has established some of the most aggressive rules to regulate vehicle emissions. The size of California’s economy — it’s larger than most countries’ — means the state’s climate policies can often drive major business shifts. Its 2045 carbon neutral goal is matched only by Hawaii among states, and tracks targets set by other major economies like Germany.
California has not decided to list the Joshua tree as an endangered species
The state would achieve its goal by combining reducing the use of fossil fuels and using technology to remove all remaining emissions from the air. NEB staff estimate this would reduce economy-wide demand for oil and the use of fossil natural gas in buildings by 91% by 2045.
This would require 30 times more electric vehicles on the road than today, six times more electrical appliances in homes, four times more wind and solar generation, and 60 times more hydrogen.
Such a drastic transition would reduce state emissions by about 78% by 2045. Some observers note that Washington and New York, two Democratic-led states, have more ambitious targets for direct emissions reductions, 95% and 85% respectively.
While the timelines don’t offer perfect comparisons, the two states are “pushing harder and further,” said Danny Cullenward, a lawyer and climate economist who serves on the oversight board of California’s carbon pricing program.
Critics from environmental groups say California’s plan doesn’t call for big enough emissions cuts, relies too much on unproven, energy-intensive carbon removal technology, and doesn’t focus on the issue of whether the state is on track to meet its most pressing 2030 emissions goals. Concerns about carbon removal technology follow global concerns about how best to meet emissions goals .
California’s proposal is based on removing 80 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air by 2045. This amount of removal represents the “highest risk scenario” for meeting the climate goals of the State, according to an October 2020 analysis by Environmental + Energy Economics, an outside organization. consulting company hired by the air board to model various proposals.
Liane Randolph, chair of the Air Resources Board, noted that the plan calls for a significant reduction in gasoline-powered appliances and a shift to electric vehicles. Yet demand for fossil fuels will not fall to zero, she said.
“There seems to be a feeling that we’re somehow favoring the mechanical removal of carbon and leaving strategies on the table in an effort to love, to make room for it, and what just isn’t the case,” she said in an interview ahead of the hearing.
The oil industry, for its part, said the plan imposes too many bans and mandates that are unworkable and will drive up prices. Western States Petroleum Association President Catherine Reheis-Boyd wrote in a letter Wednesday to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon that broader state energy policies, including those in the framework plan, contribute to higher fuel costs.
Howard Herzog, senior research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, said the level of carbon removal envisioned by the air commission’s plan will require significantly more clean energy.
“One of the biggest constraints will be finding enough carbon-free energy to get to that level,” Herzog said.
The plan predicts that demand for electricity will increase by 68% as more people drive electric cars and get rid of gas stoves and other household appliances.
At present, carbon capture is not widely used, although the Biden administration is spending billions to speed it up.
The scoping plan analyzes for the first time the role that natural and working lands, such as forests and farms, will play in increasing or reducing emissions. The modeling on which the plan is based assumed that these lands would extract carbon from the air. But the plan later revealed it would likely contribute to emissions through 2045, mostly from wildfires or related forest management. The air board may charge even more on carbon dioxide removal to account for these additional emissions.
The Air Board has 14 members, most of whom are appointed by the Governor. They represent local air districts, environmental justice communities, agriculture and the transportation system. They will approve the final plan by the end of the year.
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