In summary

California’s air quality regulator is finalizing a five-year climate roadmap. The state could improve the plan by setting more aggressive goals and emphasizing natural methods of carbon sequestration.

Guest Commentary written by

Ellie Cohen

Ellie Cohen is the CEO of The Climate Center, a policy nonprofit working to rapidly and equitably reduce climate pollution at scale, starting in California.

Daniel Kammen

Daniel Kammen

Daniel Kammen is a professor of sustainability at UC Berkeley. He is a former coordinating author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is a senior advisor for energy and innovation at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

It’s been a breakthrough year for climate action in California with one major opportunity for progress remaining: the state’s new five-year climate plan

After Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers passed the most ambitious slate of climate legislation in years, all eyes are now on the California Air Resources Board. That’s the agency tasked with updating the so-called scoping plan, which serves as California’s climate roadmap. Since the plan only gets updated every five years, the decisions that CARB makes in the coming weeks will shape California’s climate future.

As CARB’s December deadline nears, two glaring errors remain in the plan. 

First, California’s current goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2045 is too late. A report last year by The Climate Center and other leading researchers showed how the state can become carbon negative by 2035 or even 2030 by pulling more carbon out of the air than California emits. And it can be done in a way that creates thousands of good jobs and reduces inequality. 

To get there, CARB should set a more aggressive goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Achieving this target would create 235,000 new jobs and add $55 billion to the state’s economy, according to a recent analysis. That should come as no surprise since clean energy investments create nearly twice as many jobs as the fossil fuel industry. 

To speed up the transition to clean energy, CARB must also begin planning for an economy-wide fossil fuel phaseout while ensuring oil and gas workers aren’t left behind. 

Second, CARB is gambling on carbon capture and storage, a failed and expensive technology that perpetuates pollution in frontline communities. Evidence from around the world suggests that carbon capture extends the use of fossil fuels and puts nearby communities at risk. But fossil fuel corporations have spent millions of dollars to convince CARB and many state leaders to look the other way. Carbon capture interests spent $13.7 million in the first half of 2022 alone to lobby California policymakers.

California should instead look to proven, natural carbon sequestration solutions to draw down past climate pollution. New legislation signed into law this year requires state agencies to set an ambitious goal for natural carbon sequestration by 2030. From planting trees in our cities to improving soil health on farms, California can tap into our ecosystems to remove carbon from the atmosphere and improve public health, especially in communities suffering the most from air pollution. 

Marginalized communities are bearing the brunt of California’s climate crisis while fossil fuel interests prioritize profit over the health of our communities and environment. All Californians should enjoy equitable access to climate solutions. 

With support coming from President Joe Biden and Congress, California has every reason to be bold on climate right now. The Inflation Reduction Act and other federal programs will bring billions of dollars in funding for clean energy and natural climate solutions. California can use those funds to set our sights high for 2030, invest in green jobs, and place social and racial justice at the center of our climate policy. 

As the scoping plan process enters the home stretch and with the United Nations Climate Change Conference underway, the stakes could not be higher.

If CARB steps up, California could emerge as the climate leader the world desperately needs. We have the technology and know-how to set the bar for climate action, but until now, we’ve lacked the political will. That’s finally beginning to change. Newsom and CARB must carry California’s climate ambition into the final draft of the state’s scoping plan.

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