NEWS Biden’s Climate Pledge For First Time Pushes U.S. Beyond California Goals

Ezra David Romero

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Ban­ning frack­ing by 2024, phas­ing out all new sales of gas-​​powered cars by 2035, and achiev­ing car­bon neu­tral­ity 10 years later are just a few of California’s goals mak­ing it a leader among U.S. states in tack­ling cli­mate change. But a new pledge from the White House to halve nation­wide green­house gas emis­sions by 2030 from 2005 lev­els could for the first time leave the state lag­ging behind the fed­eral gov­ern­ment on cli­mate policy.

On paper, the U.S. gov­ern­ment is at least tem­porar­ily ahead of Cal­i­for­nia,” said Dan Kam­men, direc­tor of UC Berkeley’s Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory. “That’s amaz­ing to say, because basi­cally we were always ahead at the state level.”

Pres­i­dent Biden’s goal could push Cal­i­for­nia to be more ambi­tious, Kam­men says. Which is some­thing the state needs to do, accord­ing to Jason Bar­bose, the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists’ senior pol­icy man­ager for the West­ern U.S.

Cal­i­for­nia has been there to really help spear­head action,” Bar­bose said. But the state’s “cur­rent goals are not keep­ing up with the rest of the world, and, more impor­tantly, not keep­ing up with the sci­ence [which] tells us that deeper cuts are essen­tial to stave off the worst impacts of cli­mate change.”

Because Cal­i­for­nia emis­sion tar­gets are based on 1990 lev­els and Biden’s plan uses 2005 as a base year, Kam­men says the U.S. goal is only about 3% more ambi­tious than the state’s.


Kam­men believes Cal­i­for­nia already has the capa­bil­ity to go beyond its cur­rent tar­gets. His team makes the case for an almost 80% drop in emis­sions by 2030, dou­ble the cur­rent goal. Exist­ing plans and pro­pos­als like a require­ment to gen­er­ate 100% of elec­tric­ity from clean energy by 2045, and a bill to cre­ate a for­est of wind tur­bines off the Pacific Coast, could help the state ratchet up reductions.

If Cal­i­for­nia can really adopt an 80% clean energy stan­dard by 2030, that really would jump us ahead again,” Kam­men said.

State Sens. Dave Cortese, D-​​San Jose, and Henry Stern, D-​​Los Ange­les, have already intro­duced leg­is­la­tion to estab­lish a min­i­mum 80% decrease as the tar­get for 2030, fol­lowed by net neg­a­tive emis­sions no later than 2035. The bill calls for the reduc­tions in the name of secur­ing “a safe cli­mate for all.”


But the inclu­sion of “all” in cli­mate pol­icy would mean a shift from big cli­mate goals to people-​​focused adap­ta­tion solu­tions, say some cli­mate experts. Hana Creger, the Green­ling Institute’s senior man­ager for cli­mate equity, says reme­dies could include ramp­ing up the fund­ing that goes to dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties from the Green­house Gas Reduc­tion Fund or invest­ing more in pro­grams like the state’s Trans­for­ma­tive Cli­mate Com­mu­ni­ties Pro­gram, which helps fund community-​​led cli­mate projects in places like Stock­ton.

Pro­grams focused on teach­ing peo­ple about the cli­mate cri­sis then empow­er­ing them to take action offer a model not only for fight­ing cli­mate change, but also for build­ing eco­nomic oppor­tu­nity, Creger says.

Such pro­grams address “the his­toric oppres­sion of low-​​income folks of color” and allow com­mu­ni­ties “to really chart their own path by choos­ing their own goals and strate­gies and projects that will both reduce green­house gas emis­sions and pol­lu­tion,” she said.

While Creger rec­og­nizes top-​​down reg­u­la­tions are needed, she says infor­ma­tion gaps exist for res­i­dents already sur­rounded by cli­mate impacts. And big cli­mate goals may not res­onate with peo­ple deal­ing with soci­etal and eco­nomic woes.

We have to rec­og­nize that every sin­gle com­mu­nity has com­pletely dif­fer­ent needs,” she said. “We can’t take a pre­scrip­tive approach with our climate-​​equity kind of solutions.”

These could come in the form of afford­able hous­ing projects near tran­sit, planted urban tree canopies, homes out­fit­ted for solar energy, and the cre­ation of green jobs, she said.

Creger is hop­ing Biden’s desire to address issues of equity as well as the cli­mate cri­sis will prompt Cal­i­for­nia to invest in all of its residents.

It should be much more about how we bring our com­mu­ni­ties along to a place where folks can­not just react to cli­mate change, but really thrive in the face of it, “ she said.

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