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In the face of criticism, the country is adjusting its climate change blueprint


New residence under construction in Elk Grove neighborhood. The California Climate Scoping Plan includes goals for climate-friendly housing. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

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In response to the concerns of Governor Gavin Newsom and environmental scientists, the California Air Resources Board has strengthened its climate roadmap with several new strategies, including developing offshore winds, building climate-friendly housing, cleaner aviation fuels and reduced mileage.

Changes to California’s proposed climate change scoping plan also include fast-track projects by 2030 to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and from the smokestacks of polluting industries. There are no such projects in California and the practices are controversial.

A draft California scoping plan was unveiled in May, and it outlines an expanded list of strategies to combat climate change and fulfill the state’s mandate to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. The plan includes a bold commitment to phase out 91% of fossil fuels. The strategies will cost an estimated $18 billion in 2035 and $27 billion in 2045.

Aviation Board officials have delayed taking action on the plan until the end of the year, rather than later this month as scheduled. They now expect a second public hearing and vote in mid-December.

The main strategy is to reduce greenhouse gases by accelerating California’s transition to renewable energy. Newsom directed the Air Board to include a provision that avoids the need for 10 gigawatts of new natural gas production by ramping up construction of offshore wind projects.

The goal is to expand the range of renewable energy sources while stabilizing the reliability of the electric grid. During this week’s protracted heat wave, California teetered on the brink of ongoing blackouts caused by electricity demand exceeding supply.

The Air House’s move to bolster the scoping plan builds on Newsom’s call for tougher climate measures that the legislature pushed to pass before the session ended last week. The governor’s push for more action to tackle climate change comes as the state grapples with more intense heat, drought and wildfires.

“Achieving carbon neutrality is California’s most ambitious climate goal ever. It requires cutting… emissions and the unprecedented deployment of low-carbon technology and energy.”
– Leanne Randolph, Chairman, Air Resources Board

“California has shown time and time again to the world that climate action and economic growth can work hand in hand,” Newsom said in a July 22 letter to Air Resources Council President Leanne Randolph. “Now we need to take bolder action than indicated in the draft plan. The plan will be an incredibly ambitious and actionable plan for climate action in our state.”

In a letter dated August 29 to Newsom, Randolph said the Air Panel is “fully committed” to taking steps to reduce emissions as quickly as possible.

“Achieving carbon neutrality is California’s most ambitious climate goal ever,” she said. “It requires cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the unprecedented deployment of low-carbon technology and energy.”

Cleaner electric energy and more efficient homes

A shift away from fossil fuels is central to the country’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality. But supplementing this energy source with renewables still faces challenges.

Electricity use is expected to rise by up to 68% by 2045 in California under the state’s proposed plan. This means that backup power is needed to account for energy losses when wind and solar cannot produce enough electricity.

Without major improvements and investments in clean energy, Air Board officials previously said California would have to continue to rely on natural gas. But the Air Council has eliminated a requirement in the scoping plan that would allow an additional 10 gigawatts of natural gas capacity to be built to support the power grid. Instead, the governor directed the air panel’s crew to include a target of at least 20 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2045.

Currently there are no offshore wind projects off the California coast. But plans for future projects are under development. The California Energy Commission, the state’s primary energy agency, released a report in August setting goals to provide 2,000 to 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and 25,000 megawatts by 2045 — enough electricity to power at least 3.75 million homes in 2030 and 25 million. homes by 2045.

The scale plan changes also include a goal of 3 million climate-friendly homes by 2030 and 7 million by 2035.

Climate-friendly homes are using more energy-efficient systems, such as replacing gas-powered appliances with electric ones and adding solar panels on rooftops. The plan requires that half of these investments be installed in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

The plan also includes a goal to have 6 million heat pumps in homes by 2030. The heat pump diverts heat energy from the outside, “making cold space cooler and warm places warmer,” according to the US Department of Energy. It is a more efficient alternative to ovens and air conditioners.

Targets for cars and planes

The updated scoping plan also prioritizes the need to reduce emissions from cars, aircraft and other modes of transportation. Transportation in California is the largest contributor to the state’s greenhouse gases, accounting for about 50% of all emissions.

Reducing smog-forming pollutants and greenhouse gases from vehicles is a primary goal that has pushed the Air Council to ban sales of all new gas cars by 2035. But reducing the miles people drive is also critical to reducing emissions — and that means finding ways to persuade Californians to adopt more Less on their cars.

State targets for California vehicle mileage will increase from 46.8% below 1990 levels by 2030 to 50% below 1990 levels by 2030. Another important change aims to address global warming emissions from air travel: an increase in the clean aviation fuel goal From 10% to 20% in 2045.

Michael Warra, director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said the state’s transportation goals are “very exciting and very ambitious,” but he is concerned about their ability to achieve them, particularly reducing mileage.

“The new targets are very aggressive and the question now is, does the Air Resources Board have the authority and resources to follow through on making that happen?” He said. “We have a history of setting VMT (vehicle mileage) goals in California that we haven’t met. The plan is based on something where we don’t really have a way of meeting the goals that are set.”

“We have a history of setting VMT (vehicle mileage) targets in California that we don’t meet.”
Michael Warra, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Rajinder Sahota, deputy executive officer for climate change and research at the Air Resources Council, acknowledged that the state had failed to reduce mileage due to insufficient public transportation and car-centric urban planning.

She said the proposed mileage plan changes send a strong message to local planning agencies to implement policies that align with the state’s goal. She said the agency is drafting an analysis to assess uncertainties in achieving climate goals.

The state’s low-carbon fuel standard, which the Air Board plans to promote, is an important tool for decarbonization transition, said Danny Colinward, an economist and vice chair of the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee, a group of governor-appointed experts and top lawmakers.

“We need to more than triple the pace of our emissions cuts to get us on the right track,” he said. “So it is the tightening of these current policies that will address some of the emissions from the oil and gas sector.”

Decarbonization remains controversial

One controversial issue remains deeply divided between environmentalists and state officials.

At an advisory meeting on September 1, several environmentalist groups reiterated the importance of direct emissions reductions and nature-based solutions to sequestering carbon from the air. But they said the use of technologies to capture carbon emitted by industries should be scrapped from the plan altogether.

“California cannot phase out fossil fuels simultaneously while facilitating costly carbon capture projects that lock up fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Martha Dina Argello, executive director of the nonprofit Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-chair of the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee. . , which advises the Board on a scoping plan.

The updated draft plan now includes eliminating 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2045 using technologies to remove it from the atmosphere and capture it from stacks.

SB 905 — a bill expected to be signed by Newsom — directs the Air Board to develop a program that puts protective barriers on carbon capture, use and storage projects while simplifying the permitting process. The bill has angered some environmentalists, who say the technology is unproven, prolongs the use of fossil fuel stations and “poses risks of carbon dioxide leakage, contaminating groundwater and increasing air pollution,” according to Arguello.

The oil industry has largely supported the use of carbon capture and storage as a strategy to reduce emissions from oil refineries and other industrial sites, saying it is the only technology available that can remove carbon from some sectors of the economy. They also say it will mitigate job losses that may occur due to the phase-out of fossil fuels.

Globally, only 27 CCS projects are operating.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about the amount of energy needed to run the projects. Removing 80 million metric tons of carbon requires about 100 TWh of energy, according to Air Panel estimates.

“This represents more than a third of the total electricity produced by California’s grid in 2021,” said Faraz Razavi, campaign and policy director at the Asia Pacific Environmental Network. “The current draft scoping plan and portfolio goals go well beyond that, calling for the removal of 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2045.”

The updated draft plan now includes eliminating 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2045 using technologies to remove or capture it.

Shota of the Aviation Council said the state would boost its supply of renewable energy to provide that electricity without fossil fuels.

Shouta emphasized that both natural and engineered carbon strategies are essential. She said the state would prioritize nature-based methods first, rather than sequestering carbon in industrial facilities.

The plan – which erroneously said carbon capture had already begun in California – has been corrected to start the project in 2028.

At the urging of environmentalists, staff added a measure of community vulnerability to determine the effects that carbon sequestration projects would have on disadvantaged communities near polluting industries.

“Having this measure of community vulnerability really adds up to a missing piece of the social cost of carbon that looks at the additional burden some communities face in the state,” Sahota added.

At the committee’s five-hour meeting last week, Randolph, the agency’s president, also called for faster progress in phasing out oil refining and extraction in the state.

She said the formation of an interagency working group that would work with local jurisdictions could accelerate this goal and develop a strategy to offset the economic and employment impacts.

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CalMatters.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that explains California politics and policies.


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