In summary

The road to meeting California’s climate targets won’t be easy, so it is imperative that we implement strong policy across every sector of the economy.

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By F. Noel Perry

F. Noel Perry is a businessman and the founder of Next 10,

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Hoyu Chong, Special to CalMatters

Hoyu Chong is the practice lead for sustainable growth and development at Beacon Economics,

Newly appointed leaders at the California Air Resources Board began this year with a monumental task ahead of them. California’s progress on climate change is slipping – and it will take bold leadership and a visionary approach to put the state back on track.

The results from Next 10’s 12th annual California Green Innovation Index,  prepared by Beacon Economics, underscore the challenge. For the first time in six years, California’s greenhouse gas emissions ticked upward in 2018, the latest year for which data is available, just as they need to be falling dramatically. To meet California’s legally-binding emission reduction targets, we will need to cut emissions 5% annually for the next decade – a decrease that we have not come close to while not experiencing an economic downturn.

As we embark on this new year with new leadership, we must encourage policymakers to lead a full-scale mobilization to transition to a clean energy economy that will ensure good-paying jobs for workers, clean air for frontline communities and a livable future for all Californians post-pandemic. 

By investing in programs that cut pollution while driving job creation, we can meet our climate targets and jumpstart our economic recovery at the same time.

Let’s start with the transportation sector, California’s largest source of climate and air pollution, and one that disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color.

In 2020, California policymakers laid the groundwork for transitioning to electric vehicles with two foundational policies: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 100% zero-emission vehicles targets, which will end the sale of gasoline cars in California by 2035, and ARB’s Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which requires that more than half of all trucks sold in the state be zero-emissions by 2035.

In 2021, policymakers can build on these accomplishments and move even faster – with several opportunities on the horizon. Newsom’s recently released economic recovery plan includes $1.5 billion over 10 years for constructing electric charging stations and subsidizing purchases of zero-emissions vehicles for low-income communities. If California policymakers can approve and expand this funding, it could provide the crucial climate, environmental justice and economic stimulus that our state needs.

Tackling pollution from the heavy-duty sector should also be a priority for policymakers. The silver lining of California’s emissions story from 2018 was a drop in transportation emissions thanks to improvements made in the heavy-duty sector. 

Regulators have an opportunity to double-down on that success. In 2020, the Advanced Clean Trucks rule was passed unanimously by the California Air Resources Board and this year they’re working on the Advanced Clean Fleets standard, which will set policy for fleet electrification to align with those manufacturing targets, further solidifying the needed reductions in diesel pollution across the state.

In contrast, emissions from the power sector, normally a brightspot for California, ticked upward in 2018 – an indication that the state must accelerate the transition to renewable energy. We cannot take for granted previous years’ success in reducing power sector emissions. Many stakeholders are concerned that the targets that the California Public Utilities Commission is currently considering are too weak to spur needed innovation. 

Commercial sector emissions are also on the rise with no sign of slowing. From 2017 to 2018, the commercial sector experienced the largest one-year emissions increase of any sector due to the replacement of ozone-depleting substances in refrigeration and air conditioning with highly carbon-intensive technologies. ARB took steps late last year to address these “super pollutants” through a first-of-its kind program to transition to cleaner technologies for new equipment, but more work is needed.

These emissions spikes should serve as a wake-up call to Californians. We’ve tackled the low hanging fruit. Now, it is imperative that we implement strong climate policy across every sector of the economy. The road to meeting state climate targets won’t be easy, but doing the work is essential to safeguarding our health, economic prosperity and well-being.

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