California’s Climate Problem Is Cars

Since 2006 when California passed groundbreaking climate legislation AB 32 the state has demonstrated that decarbonizing is both possible and profitable in the electricity sector. The legislation started a cascade of new standards, regulations, and subsidies targeted to reduce greenhouse gases in the state.

Starting in 2009 state’s progress has been tracked in a detailed annual report aptly named the California Green Innovation Index. Next 10, a nonprofit advocacy organization, in collaboration with research firm Beacon Economics just released the ninth edition of the CGII. The new report reflects both the progress the state has made and the next big challenge, decarbonizing transportation.

California will lead the nation in the movement, and for good reason. The state has expanded its economy while reducing its emissions, even through the global recession.

“Since the passage of AB 32 in 2006,” Next 10 founder F. Noel Perry writes, “California’s GDP per capita has grown by nearly $5,000 per person — nearly double the national average — while California emissions per capita dropped by 12 percent.”

Unfortunately the report also highlights that California cannot possibly hope to hit it’s ambitious emissions goals without tackling transportation, the state’s biggest source of carbon emissions and twice as big as the state’s electricity sector. So far, progress in this sector has been negligible.

Two solutions are available to the state, and the first is simply electrifying the fleet. Although California is leading other states already, with almost half of all zero-emission vehicles being sold in California in 2016, the total overall percentage in the state would need to drastically rise to help the state hit it’s goals.

The other solution is much more complicated for the state. It’s housing crisis means that more people are commuting longer distances at slower speeds. This rising congestion leads to rising emissions as research has shown that slower vehicles produce more carbon dioxide. The state has the option to build out its transportation systems, which would also need to be electrified. This is an opportunity for California to once again show the U.S. and the world that emission progress can support a growing economy.