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Blog Post · October 13, 2015

State Struggles to Enact More Robust Climate Targets

California’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions thus far have made the state a national leader. But the momentum may be slowing. A struggle over recent climate legislation resulted in a less-ambitious version of the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act (SB 350) being signed into law by Governor Brown last week and the deferment of a bill (SB 32) that would have strengthened the state’s 2006 climate law.

The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) established the foundation of California’s plan to address climate change by reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The state is on track to meet the 2020 limit, and now policy efforts are shifting to longer term goals. Emission-reduction targets of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 are already set forth in executive orders (former Gov. Schwarzenegger’s S-3-05 and Gov. Brown’s B-30-15) but have not yet been incorporated into law.

SB 350 is seen as a major step toward reducing GHG emissions in the longer term. It mandates that half of the state’s electricity come from renewable resources and that buildings double their energy savings by 2030. But a third piece of the original plan, which proposed to cut petroleum use in cars and trucks by half over the next 15 years, was dropped. Since the transportation sector is a major contributor to GHG emissions (37% in 2013), this is could make it more challenging to meet long term emissions reductions. To make up for the loss, the Air Resources Board adopted a modified version of its Low Carbon Fuel Standard that requires a 10 percent reduction in carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 2020.

The second slowdown was the deferment of SB 32 until at least next year. The bill would amend the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 to include the 2030 and 2050 emission-reduction targets from the executive orders. It failed to pass in the assembly.

Our July PPIC Statewide Survey found that solid majorities of Californians (69% adults, 62% likely voters) favored the proposal to reduce GHG emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. When asked about the original goals of SB 350, 82 percent of adults supported the increase of electrical generation from renewables, 70 percent favored doubling energy efficiency in buildings, and 73 percent supported reducing petroleum use in cars and trucks by 50 percent by 2030. Although Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support these goals, majorities of Republicans support the goals of increasing renewables and energy efficiency. Overwhelming majorities who favor these policies also view global warming as a serious threat to the economy.

The state’s approach to reducing GHG emissions has achieved important results. The mix of policies has resulted in a cleaner economy, while population and GDP have continued to grow. Looking ahead, a study for the California Energy Commission shows that with the mix of technologies and practices proposed by state agencies, emission reductions of 26–38 percent below 1990 levels could be achieved by 2030 at a cost of $8 per household per month (or $14 if commercial and industrial costs are all passed on to households).

California’s multi-faceted approach to combating global warming has placed it in the vanguard of worldwide policies. Yet 2020 is just around the corner, and clear targets to reduce GHG emissions for the longer term still evade us. To remain on the leading edge of global climate regulations, the state will need to adopt more robust and forward-looking policies. It would also be worthwhile to explore a new narrative to reduce the partisan divide on this issue, given Californians’ widespread support for the state’s energy goals.

Learn More

Explore PPIC’s climate change page.



climate change climate change global warming PPIC Statewide Survey SB 32 SB 350 Statewide Survey