United States: California Updates Climate Change Scoping Plan

Last Updated: November 25 2013
Article by Thomas M. Donnelly

On October 1, 2013, California Air Resources Board ("CARB") staff released a discussion draft of the first update to CARB's Scoping Plan, which is CARB's plan for achieving the greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions reductions required by AB 32. CARB must update the plan every five years.

The draft update focuses on three issues: operation of the program over the past five years, what is needed to achieve the requirement of reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and what is needed to continue reducing GHG emissions to meet long-term goals. The update focuses on six sectors of the economy: energy, transportation and fuels, agriculture, water, waste management, and natural and working lands.

In reviewing the programs to date, the update concludes that total statewide GHG emissions decreased by 2.7 percent between 2000 and 2011. Because California's population increased by 10.5 percent during that time, California's per capita GHG emissions decreased by 1.9 percent between 2000 and 2011. Breaking down the statistics to a sector level, the draft indicates that the transportation sector reduced its GHG emissions by 4.4 percent between 2000 and 2011, the electric power sector reduced its GHG emissions by about 37 percent between 2001 and 2011, and the industrial sector reduced its GHG emissions by 2.4 percent between 2000 and 2011. The GHG emissions from several sectors increased, including from agriculture and waste management.

To meet the 2020 goal, the update identifies the need for increased use of renewable energy, continued improvements in energy efficiency, and increased use of zero-emission vehicles powered by electricity or hydrogen. It also emphasizes reducing high global warming potential chemicals through CARB's Refrigerant Management Program and reducing short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, diesel smoke, and methane.

The update envisions a continuation of the effort to reduce GHG levels past 2020. It concludes that scientific evidence indicates global emissions must be reduced by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 in order to achieve climate stabilization. It also recommends that a midterm target be established for 2030 in order to drive progress toward the 2050 goal. The update does not recommend a specific target reduction level but instead cites recommendations from the Union of Concerned Scientists (44 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 for the U.S.) and the Netherlands (37 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 for the U.S.).

CARB likely cannot require GHG emissions reductions to less than the 1990 levels without additional statutory authority. Nevertheless, meeting the 2050 target proposed by CARB would require significant acceleration of current GHG reduction rates. Emissions from 2020 to 2050 would have to decline at more than twice the rate needed to reach the 2020 emissions limit. The update concludes that this is technically achievable if emissions reductions are significantly accelerated by (i) reducing energy demand, (ii) large-scale use of electric vehicles and energy-efficient building and industrial appliances, and (iii) production of electricity through renewable and other near-zero-emission technologies.

CARB staff held a public workshop on October 15, 2013 to discuss the draft and will make presentations to the Board regarding the draft at hearings scheduled for October 24–25 and December 12, 2013. Each of these events will include an opportunity for public comments. CARB is scheduled to consider approval of the update at a hearing held the second quarter of 2014.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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