California revises climate change strategy

In summary

A new version of California’s climate plan sets a stricter — some say unrealistic — goal for reducing greenhouse gases. It also relies heavily on controversial carbon capture and removal projects, which are said to be responsible for 15% of all cuts.

The California Air Resources Board today unveiled a new version of its long-awaited strategy to fight climate change, setting more ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gases and scaling up controversial carbon-capture projects.

If adopted by the air board at its Dec. 15 meeting, the plan would fundamentally reshape California’s economy, alter the way California’s vehicles, buildings and appliances are powered, and ultimately serve as a model for others states and countries to follow.

“Failure is not an option,” Air Board Chair Liane Randolph said. “The stakes are too high, and we must move as fast and as far as possible to reduce the worst impacts of climate change and leave a livable and healthy California for future generations.”

The five-year climate change strategy, called the scoping plan, outlines in its 297 pages how California could end its dependence on oil and also clean up the nation’s worst air pollution.

The final draft of the personnel plan adds bolder pledges, reducing oil consumption by 94% from 2022 levels by 2045, up from the 91% target in the September version of the plan.

The plan also sets a more aggressive goal of reducing carbon emissions 48 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, up from the 40 percent by 2030 required by state law. Net-zero emissions would be achieved in 2045. (Net-zero or carbon neutrality means finding a balance between the carbon dioxide added to the air and the carbon removed).

California still has a long way to go to meet the new 48% target in just eight years. By 2020, it had cut emissions by only about 14 percent from 1990 levels, according to board officials.

Danny Cullenward, a climate economist who sits on a committee advising the state on its greenhouse gas credit trading system, said California is not on track to meet its current 2030 reduction goal. , much less the new tougher target.

“I’m not saying California isn’t doing anything about the climate. We’ve done a lot of things,” said Cullenward, who sits on the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Board. “But this is such a superficial exercise and it’s filled with so many flaws and mistakes.”

Board officials, however, said they were confident the state could meet the new goal, largely with mandates and policies enacted this year. State officials have phased out sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, set a stricter standard for low-carbon fuels, and streamlined the location and permitting of renewable energy projects.

“This plan is a comprehensive roadmap to achieving a pollution-free future,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement today. “It is the most ambitious set of climate goals of any jurisdiction in the world and, if adopted, will spur an industrial revolution-like economic transformation.”

But Cullenward criticized workforce modeling, which is used to predict how each sector of the economy will reduce emissions. He said the plan lacks a thorough analysis of the feasibility of its projections and makes important assumptions.

One example, he said, is that the plan relies on other agencies, such as the California Energy Commission, setting out new policies, but doesn’t address timescales and obstacles they might face or other details.

“It’s quite an ambitious document, but it’s full of bureaucratic talk,” he said. “It’s really frustrating because there’s so much work to do.”

“I’m not saying California isn’t doing anything about the climate…but this is such a superficial exercise and it’s filled with so many flaws and mistakes.”

Danny Cullenward, economist and CLIMATE consultant

Some policy pundits say setting ambitious goals is a crucial step toward cleaning up air pollution and fighting climate change.

“The scoping plan can at least help direct our attention even if it doesn’t give us as much detail as we want,” said Dave Weiskopf, a senior policy advisor at NextGen Policy, a progressive advocacy group. “On the one hand it’s really frustrating. On the other hand, it tells us that if we put the effort into saying what a good plan should look like, at least we have a chance to get the state to take meaningful action.”

The new plan relies more than the original versions on two controversial advanced technologies to eliminate planet-warming carbon dioxide. Overall, 15% – increased from 5% – of all the state’s targeted greenhouse gas reductions will come from carbon removal and carbon capture and storage.

One strategy removes carbon from the atmosphere, such as replanting trees or storing it in soil. Another, called carbon capture and storage, collects the carbon emitted by industrial chimneys and injects it into the ground.

California currently has no carbon removal or carbon capture and storage projects, and Air Board officials say they won’t be implemented until 2028. The state’s scenario calls for carbon capture technology to be installed on most of California’s 17 refineries. California oil by 2030 and on all concrete, clay, glass and stone structures by 2045.

Environmental groups oppose both technologies, saying they extend the life of fossil fuels, while oil companies say they are necessary to meet the state’s long-term climate goals. The debate pits those who want to force an end to fossil fuels against those who want a technology-based approach to clean up carbon in some way.

Globally, there are 27 carbon capture and storage projects in operation so far.

Oil industry officials declined to comment on the plan today.

Meeting the plan’s goals would cost $18 billion in 2035 and $27 billion in 2045, according to air board estimates. The shift to decarbonisation and the transition away from fossil fuels will also dramatically increase electricity consumption, which is expected to increase by up to 68% in 2045.

Under Newsom’s direction, the air board in September already strengthened its draft plan, originally released last May, to include new targets for offshore wind, cleaner aviation fuels and reduced mileage. from vehicles.

Other changes include building 3 million climate-friendly homes by 2030 and 7 million by 2035, installing at least 6 million heat pumps by 2030, and eliminating the ability to build new natural gas plants or to use fossil fuels in the electricity sector to maintain grid reliability.

Eliminating 100 million tons of carbon

Under a new law that Newsom prioritized in its climate package at the end of this year’s legislative session, the air board has been tasked with creating a new program that puts up barriers to projects capturing, using and carbon storage, while simplifying the permitting process.

These technologies aim to remove or capture and store at least 20 million tons of carbon by 2030 and 100 million tons by 2045, according to the plan.

Once captured by the smokestacks, the carbon could be transported to sites in the Central Valley. Air board staff say the valley is an ideal place to inject carbon dioxide deep into rock formations because it has the capacity to store at least 17 billion tons.

While controversial, air board staff say the technologies are a “necessary tool” to reduce emissions from industrial sectors, such as the cement industry, where no other alternatives may exist.

“We’ve squeezed all the emissions we can under inventory for manufacturing for transport and for industry, but we know the residual emissions will remain,” said Rajinder Sahota, deputy executive director of the climate change and research council. “We’re going to need all the tools in all of these categories.”

But at an Oct. 28 seminar, members of the state’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board raised several concerns about engineered carbon removal, saying it’s an unproven strategy that could continue to plague local communities with pollution. atmospheric. They also say it would delay the closure of oil facilities and serve as a substitute for direct emission reductions.

“The Air Resources Board’s latest climate plan once again sets California’s future on a dangerous carbon-capture pipe dream,” said Jason Pfeifle, senior climate activist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Catching polluters who want to keep burning fossil fuels and dirty biomass energy is a one-way ticket to climate destruction. California needs a plan that rejects industry scams, preserves our ecosystems, and rapidly eliminates fossil fuels.”

“The Air Resources Board’s latest climate plan once again sets California’s future on a dangerous carbon-capture pipe dream.”

Jason Pfeifle, the Center for Biological Diversity

Board staff acknowledged these concerns, but Randolph, the chairman of the board, said many of the greenhouse gas goals could not be achieved without them. He said the council prioritized creating a metric to measure how residents might be impacted by these projects and also consider the needs of people most affected by air pollution.

Randolph said the plan’s strong emphasis on reducing transportation emissions will also significantly improve air quality in vulnerable communities. Reducing vehicle miles and improving access to mass transit, designing more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, and increasing access to bicycles and electric vehicles all play a role.

The council expects the state’s cap and trade program, which allows big polluters to buy credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, will play a much smaller role over time.

In the 2017 version of their scoping plan, board officials estimated that about 38% of emissions reductions would come from cap and trade. Instead, it would now help “close the gap” to meet the accelerated 2030 emissions target.

Cap and trade has been heavily criticized by lawmakers and experts in recent years. One criticism is that there are at least 310 million unused credits in the system currently, which is a problem because companies accumulate credits that allow them to continue polluting beyond state limits in subsequent years. Board officials say they hope to reform the program and address the credit oversupply late next year.

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