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California's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Up Statewide Except For Transportation, Study Suggests

A freeway sign in Sacramento, Calif. on March 19, 2020.
Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
A freeway sign in Sacramento, Calif. on March 19, 2020.

California is known around the world as a leader in the fight against climate change, but new data reveals that greenhouse gas emissions have increased across the state and not because of transportation.

A collaboration between the nonpartisan think tank Next-10 and the consulting firm Beacon Economics found greenhouse gas emissions from 2018 — the latest year data is available — rose by about 0.2% for the first time since 2012. The authors blame increases in power and commercial sectors — like facilities that use refrigeration and power plants — using highly volatile substances which create pollution.

“Unless we work to sort of rapidly decline the use of these substances, we can anticipate that upward growth may continue,” said Colleen Kredell, director of research for Next-10. She says California is already taking action by targeting refrigeration and air conditioning to help reduce emissions from the commercial sector.

Noel Perry, founder of Next-10, says to get back on track, California should reduce emissions by around 4.9% yearly over the next decade if the state is going to reach the level mandated by Senate Bill 32. The bill, which was signed into law in 2016, requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below the 1990 levels by 2030.

Perry says he’s worried because emissions went up in almost every sector of California’s economy and that’s “concerning, because if California is to hit its 2030 climate goals, then we need to reduce emissions by about 5% per year.”

Perry noted that climate policies of the past may no longer work as the climate crisis grows and emissions rise — even with “ambitious” climate action. He says California needs to quadruple the rate of reduction from about 1.18% to achieve the 2030 goal and ramp up that rate of reduction even more to achieve the 2050 goal. If that doesn’t happen, he says the state will likely not reach its goal, and the greater effects of climate change — wildfires, droughts, etc. — could worsen.

“We're in a different ballgame right now,” he said. “Many of the policies that California has that made us really a world leader in terms of climate change, some of those policies aren't going to be the policies that are going to get us to where we need to get in the future ... California has demonstrated itself as a model for the world. We've done it before, I think that we can do it again.”

Perry says there is some good news: Transportation emissions decreased by about 0.9% from 2017 to 2018, and then may have decreased again recently because of the pandemic.

“Transportation emissions are about 41% of California's emissions, and to see that change was really significant, because it created some hope that over the next few years, the direction and that downward [trend] might continue,” he said.

Reductions in emissions from heavy duty vehicles as well as passenger cars “may be an indication that the state's own clean car policies and our ambitious electric vehicle plans are maybe at work,” said Hoyu Chong, the practice lead for sustainable growth and development at Beacon Economics.

The decrease in emissions during the pandemic shows how integral each sector is in curbing the climate crisis, and that a suite of solutions need to be in play to stop warming, Kredell of Next-10 said.

“Clean transportation policies are starting to deliver results, our efforts to clean up our power sector and introducing far more renewables have also worked,” she said. “So, I think long term, we need to just continue to deepen those efforts and expand to all other sectors.”

She says one way to do this is with a green stimulus plan to revive the economy as the pandemic lingers.

“If we want to be able to hit our climate targets and reach 100% clean energy and reach carbon neutrality, then we have to invest in clean economy and in job creation in sectors that serve that,” she said. “We're talking about programs to expand the use of electric vehicles, like car share programs … We also need to expand the infrastructure for electric vehicle charging throughout the state.”

Copyright 2021 CapRadio

Ezra David Romero