California targets fossil fuel-free electricity by 2045

The US state of California has adopted an ambitious new climate target.

The US state of California, which represents the fifth largest economy in the world, has adopted an ambitious new climate target.

On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 100 (SB 100), which sets a goal of generating 100 percent of the state’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. The same day, Governor Brown issued an executive order committing California to full, economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045.

“This bill and the executive order put California on a path to meet the goals of Paris and beyond. It will not be easy. It will not be immediate. But it must be done,” Governor Brown said in a statement.

California was already known as a leader in climate action prior to SB 100, but the new law significantly accelerates its emissions-reduction timeline by requiring the state to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and 60 percent by 2030 — the latter target being 10 percent higher than California’s previous clean energy commitments.

Kevin de León, California’s Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus and the author of SB 100, said that “climate change is real, it’s affecting our lives right now, and unless we take action immediately – it may become irreversible.” He added: “Transitioning to an entirely carbon-free energy grid will create good-paying jobs, ensure our children breathe cleaner air and mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change on our communities and economy.”

Electricity generation is only responsible for 16 percent of California’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, however. That’s why Governor Brown issued the executive order, as well, committing the state to achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 and net negative greenhouse gas emissions thereafter. For the state to follow through on that commitment, it will have to find a way to de-carbonize the many sectors of its economy that rely on the burning of fossil fuels directly rather than on electricity generation, such as transportation and heating and cooling.

While Brown’s executive order is purely aspirational as long as it’s not backed up by official state policy or legislation, initiatives are already in place that could help California achieve carbon neutrality. “The state is pushing to rapidly expand adoption of electric vehicles and has created a ‘cap and trade’ program to put a price on carbon emissions, creating incentives to reduce them,” the AP reports. “It’s working toward a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 12 years.”

Vox’s David Roberts wrote of the executive order: “If California really did this — if the world’s fifth-largest economy really targeted economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045 — it would be the most significant carbon policy commitment ever. Anywhere. Period.” But, as Roberts notes, a future governor or legislature could easily overturn Brown’s executive order. “State agencies can research, develop road maps, and recommend policy, but to make it real, the legislature will have to pass a law (or, more likely, laws), and that will occasion a long and bloody political battle. For the state’s fossil fuel industries, that battle would be existential.”

The signing of SB 100 and the issuing of the executive order on carbon neutrality were part of a flurry of climate activity on the eve of the Global Climate Action Summit. Last week, for instance, Brown signed legislation to block new oil drilling off of California’s coast, a measure designed to oppose the Trump Administration’s plan to open nearly all of US coastal waters to oil and gas drilling. Offshore oil and gas leases have not been issued in California in over three decades.

Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are hosting the three-day Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this week to bring together governmental representatives, environmental activists, and business leaders from around the world to push for and celebrate bold climate action.

Brown and Bloomberg are the co-founders of the We Are Still In coalition, a collection of US states, cities, universities, and corporations that have pledged to honor the emissions-reduction commitments the US made under the Paris Climate Agreement despite the Trump Administration vowing to pull the country out of the accord.

Banner image: Renewable energy development in the California desert. Photo Credit: Tom Brewster Photography / US Bureau of Land Management, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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