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California Hit 2020 Emissions Reduction Goal Four Years Early – Here’s How


The California Air Resources Board (CARB) found that greenhouse gas pollution in California in 2016 fell below the emissions target set for 2020, meaning the state has met its goal four years early.

Under a bill passed in 2006, the state needed to lower emissions to the 1990 level of 431 million metric tons by 2020. Two years ago, the actual number was 429 million metric tons of climate pollutants, a 3% drop from 2015 levels, according to the board’s latest inventory trends report.

Here’s what CARB says happened:

  • Electricity generation had the largest decline of all the sectors. “Emissions from this sector declined 18% in 2016, reflecting continued growth in renewable energy — such as solar, wind and geothermal — as a result of the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS), and a corresponding drop in natural gas generation,” CARB reported. “Solar electricity in all forms, including rooftop generation, grew 33%, while natural gas fell more than 15%.”
  • Cleaner out-of-state electricity is on the rise. “Thanks to the carbon price signal created by the Cap-and-Trade Program that makes fossil fuel generation more expensive, cleaner out-of-state electricity is increasingly taking the place of fuels such as coal,” the board says. “This included more imports of hydroelectric power from outside the state, which grew by nearly 39% in 2016 thanks to abundant rainfall throughout the West Coast.”
  • Record biofuel usage for cars and trucks. “The transportation sector, the state’s largest source of greenhouse gases, saw a 2% increase in emissions in 2016 because of increased fuel consumption,” the report noted. However, as a result of the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, cars and trucks used a record 1.5 billion gallons of biofuel that year. “These low-carbon alternative fuels, consisting mostly of biodiesel, renewable diesel, and ethanol, avoided 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.”
  • Industrial sector emissions down. “Emissions from the industrial sector, including refineries, oil and gas extraction, cement plants, and other stationary sources, fell 2% from 2015 levels,” the report noted. However, emissions from refineries increased slightly.

Predictions when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the original bill in 2006 were dire, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board said. “Surprise! California didn’t shut down,” they wrote. “The state isn’t plagued with energy shortages and blackouts; in fact, California now produces so much solar power that the state has occasionally paid other states to take its surplus electricity. Businesses didn’t flee, and investors are still putting their money to work in the state, which now has the world’s fifth-largest economy.”

So how did California do it? CARB credits several state programs for reducing greenhouse gas levels. Those primary programs are the Renewables Portfolio Standard, the Advanced Clean Cars Program, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and the Cap-and-Trade Program. Additional programs that address GHG sources include the Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Strategy, the Sustainable Communities Strategy, and the Sustainable Freight Action Plan.

Last year CARB adopted the 2030 Scoping Plan, which lays out how various state initiatives will help reduce greenhouse gases to 260 million metric tons.

“Emissions may vary from year-to-year depending on the weather and other factors,” said CARB executive officer Richard Corey. “However, this inventory demonstrates that our policies are working to incentivize GHG-free energy sources and ensure the state remains on track to meet its climate targets in 2020 and beyond.”

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