California passes ambitious climate targets

New law requires the US economic powerhouse to cut its emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Californian governor Jerry Brown meet at the Paris climate conference, December 8, 2015. Source: State Department/Public Domain

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California, the world’s sixth largest economy, is set to enter into law one of the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction regimes in the developed world.

In a major coup for its backers, the extension to Senate Bill 32 passed the state’s upper house on Wednesday evening. It followed the acceptance of its sister bill in the house of assembly on Tuesday.

Together they mandate an emissions cut of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. This would put California’s climate laws on a par with the EU, which is widely considered an industrialised world leader in terms of its ambition to combat climate change.

California emitted 353 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2013, If it were a country, it would be among the 20 worst polluters.

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The bill passed by 25 votes to 13. As supporters celebrated, California’s Democrat governor Jerry Brown immediately issued a statement committing to signing the bills and taking a swipe at climate revisionists in the Republican party.

“Yesterday, big oil bought a full-page ad in the capital city’s newspaper of record to halt action on climate,” said Brown.

“Today, the assembly speaker, most Democrats and one brave Republican passed SB 32, rejecting the brazen deception of the oil lobby and their Trump-inspired allies who deny science and fight every reasonable effort to curb global warming.”

Speaking before the vote, Republican senate leader Jean Fuller said the original 2006 bill, which required the state’s emissions to fall to 1990 levels by 2020 and which today’s bill extends, had crushed employment.

“It has decreased energy security for our country by dismantling the energy infrastructure in our country and by eliminating jobs that are highly-skilled, well-paid that are very important to my county,” said Fuller.

Ceres programme director in California Ana Zacapa said: “This is a hard-won and hugely important victory for the drought-stricken state of California. Even more importantly, it sets a new precedent for climate action across the US.”

California’s new target steps far beyond the federal administration’s commitments to the Paris climate agreement. The US’ national climate target of 26–28% below 2005 in 2025 uses a different baseline, but is equivalent to 12–19% below 1990.

During the house debate Republican Assembly leader Kristin Olsen had questioned the “intellectual honesty” of prioritising climate change when people in California were dealing with daily real struggles and humanitarian crises, such as abortion which she called the “sanctioned killing of millions of babies across the globe”.

But advocates say the law will encourage investment incentive in a state where renewable energy innovation is a burgeoning economic force. It will also provide a strong economic signal for the state’s cap and trade system, which suffered from lukewarm demand at its recent auction.

On Thursday, with the vote hanging in the balance, major corporations including Levi Strauss, Symantec and Mars, delivered a letter to lawmakers urging them to sign the bill.

Zacapa said the broad coalition of voices had won the day: “We know from our allies in the legislature that the voices of California businesses and investors that Ceres helped bring to the table were key to the passage of this important legislation.”

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