Biden’s Climate Pledge For First Time Pushes U.S. Beyond California Goals
Banning fracking by 2024, phasing out all new sales of gas-powered cars by 2035, and achieving carbon neutrality 10 years later are just a few of Californiaâs goals making it a leader among U.S. states in tackling climate change. But a new pledge from the White House to halve nationwide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels could for the first time leave the state lagging behind the federal government on climate policy.Â
âOn paper, the U.S. government is at least temporarily ahead of California,â said Dan Kammen, director of UC Berkeleyâs Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. âThat’s amazing to say, because basically we were always ahead at the state level.â
Bidenâs goal could push California to be more ambitious, Kammen says. Which is something the state needs to do, according to Jason Barbose, the Union of Concerned Scientistsâ senior policy manager for the Western U.S.
âCalifornia has been there to really help spearhead action,â Barbose said. But the stateâs âcurrent goals are not keeping up with the rest of the world, and, more importantly, not keeping up with the science [which] tells us that deeper cuts are essential to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.”
Because California emission targets are based on 1990 levels and Bidenâs plan uses 2005 as a base year, Kammen says the U.S. goal is only about 3 percent more ambitious than the stateâs.Â
Kammen believes California already has the capability to go beyond its current targets. His team makes the case for an almost 80% drop in emissions by 2030, double the current goal. Existing plans and proposals like a requirement to generate 100% of electricity from clean energy by 2045 and a bill to create a forest of wind turbines off the Pacific Coast could help the state ratchet up reductions.
âIf California can really adopt an 80% clean energy standard by 2030, that really would jump us ahead again,â Kammen said.
State senators Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, and Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles have already introduced legislation to establish a minimum 80% decrease as the target for 2030, followed by net negative emissions no later than 2035. The bill calls for the reductions in the name of securing âa safe climate for all.â
But the inclusion of âallâ in climate policy would mean a shift from big climate goals to people-focused adaptation solutions, say some climate experts. Hana Creger, the Greenling Instituteâs senior manager for climate equity, says remedies could include ramping up the funding that goes to disadvantaged communities from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund or investing more in programs like the stateâs Transformative Climate Communities Program, which helps fund community-led climate projects in places like Stockton.
Programs focused on teaching people about the climate crisis then empowering them to take action offer a model not only for fighting climate change, but also for building economic opportunity, Creger says.Â
Such programs address âthe historic oppression of low-income folks of colorâ and allow communities âto really chart their own path by choosing their own goals and strategies and projects that will both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution,â she said.
While Creger recognizes top-down regulations are needed, she says information gaps exist for residents already surrounded by climate impacts. And big climate goals may not resonate with people dealing with societal and economic woes.Â
âWe have to recognize that every single community has completely different needs,â she said. âWe can’t take a prescriptive approach with our climate-equity kind of solutions.â
These could come in the form of affordable housing projects near transit, planted urban tree canopies, homes outfitted for solar energy, and the creation of green jobs, she said.
Creger is hoping Bidenâs desire to address issues of equity as well as the climate crisis will prompt California to invest in all of its residents.Â
âIt should be much more about how we bring our communities along to a place where folks cannot just react to climate change, but really thrive in the face of it, â she said.Â
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