In summary

California should think bigger about climate change and imagine a complete climate solution, where we actually reverse climate change rather than just avoid its catastrophic impacts.

By Ryan McCarthy, Special to CalMatters

Ryan McCarthy is director of Climate and Clean Energy at Weideman Group in Sacramento, [email protected]

California can readily and cost-effectively reach its goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2045 and begin to reverse climate change, according to a recent report led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and authored by more than 20 researchers.

In fact, the report shows we can meet those targets much sooner. 

Achieving climate neutrality and net-negative emissions requires not only continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, but also pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, so eventually, we remove and store more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than we put into it.

Many carbon removal strategies scrub carbon dioxide from the air and reduce emissions from sources on the ground, by generating renewable energy or supporting carbon capture from industrial facilities.  For some strategies, these “avoided emissions” are of similar magnitude as the level of carbon removal – offering double climate benefit.

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One strategy highlighted in the report is converting waste biomass such as agricultural and forest residues into renewable hydrogen.  The hydrogen can be used to displace fossil fuels, and carbon dioxide that was originally pulled from the air by a tree or plant can be captured and permanently stored.  Machines powered by low-cost renewable energy or waste heat from industrial operations offer the potential to scrub unlimited amounts of carbon dioxide from our air and oceans, while supporting carbon capture from industry.

Other approaches include natural strategies that pull carbon from the air and store it in trees and soils.  These are immediately needed on a wide scale to address wildfire risks and improve resilience.

Altogether, the report finds that carbon removal in California offers a net climate benefit of as much as 187 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year – as soon as 2025.  This would be equivalent to eliminating the emissions from every vehicle on our roads and every home in our state – within five years.

Such tremendous potential invites us to think bigger about climate change.

We can imagine a complete climate solution, where we actually reverse climate change rather than just avoid its most catastrophic impacts.  We can imagine holding everyone to a common standard of climate neutrality, rather than pitting one technology or sector against another. We can imagine engaging all communities around a bigger, more diverse solution, and the opportunities that come with it.  And we can imagine Gov. Gavin Newsom, standing with Democrats and Republicans alike, saying, “Climate for All,” while putting the state – and the planet – on a far more ambitious, and compelling path.

California’s climate neutrality pledge was established via executive order by then-Gov. Jerry Brown and has been endorsed by the Legislature and Newsom.  When it was unveiled, it was dubbed “history’s most ambitious climate target.”  Now, many are beginning to call on leaders, like California, to further increase their ambition and achieve climate neutrality earlier, by 2030. 

We can achieve that goal if we embrace all climate solutions.  This means pursuing carbon removal to its fullest extent, and also:

—  Facilitating and accelerating the inevitable transition to zero emission cars and trucks;

— Enabling renewable gases like biogas and hydrogen to decarbonize existing buildings and appliances;

—  Proactively decarbonizing our industrial sector with renewable gas and carbon capture and sequestration;

—  Investing in the Central Valley, Sierra, Inland Empire and Imperial Valley to create innovation hubs around sustainable agriculture, carbon dioxide removal, green hydrogen and the circular economy; and

—  Supporting all those who wish to decarbonize in responsible ways that support economic opportunity, climate resilience and clean air.

California’s leadership over the last decade helped renewable power and electric cars emerge as global market winners, while bringing hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment to our state. 

Now is the time to take the next step.  California should reset its ambition and unleash the next wave of clean energy and climate innovation. 

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Ryan McCarthy is director of Climate and Clean Energy at Weideman Group in Sacramento, [email protected]

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