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EcosystemsCalifornia Releases Draft Plan to Reach Carbon Neutrality by 2045

California Releases Draft Plan to Reach Carbon Neutrality by 2045

California Releases Draft Plan to Reach Carbon Neutrality by 2045

California’s Draft 2022 Scoping Plan is an ambitious, inexpensive, and actionable plan for addressing climate change

California’s lead climate and air quality agency published a comprehensive draft plan yesterday for the way the state could reach its carbon neutrality goals by no later than 2045. The California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Draft 2022 Scoping Plan Update (Draft Plan) assesses each California’s progress toward meeting its 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goal (40% reduction from the 1990 level) established by Senate Bill 32 (Chapter 249, Statutes of 2016), and a Proposed Scenario (in addition to an evaluation of several alternative scenarios) for achieving the state’s carbon neutrality goal.

The Draft Plan demonstrates that the state is bringing the whole lot to the fight against the climate crisis by providing an actionable plan to drastically reduce GHG emissions across all sectors within the state, while ensuring an equitable transition to carbon neutrality. The plan also offers a model for policy planning and evaluation that other jurisdictions will want to consider.

[For full disclosure, prior to joining the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law, I worked for CARB for more than a decade, although I did not have a role in writing the draft 2022 Scoping Plan Update. The views presented here are my own.]

What’s a Scoping Plan?

Pursuant to Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32; Chapter 488, Statutes of 2006), CARB was tasked with developing a plan on or before January 1, 2009, that considers amongst other aspects cost effectiveness, maximum technologically feasible GHG emission reductions, and “total potential costs and total potential economic and noneconomic advantages to California’s economy, environment, and public health, using the very best available economic models, emission estimation techniques, and other scientific methods.” Health & Safety Code § 38561(d). CARB must update this plan at the very least once every five years. Id.at § 38561(h). The initial plan was approved in 2008, with the second in 2013, and probably the most recent iteration in 2017. Each of those plans provides a snapshot of the tools (e.g., incentives, regulations, and carbon pricing) that form the portfolio approach the state has adopted to realize the 2020 GHG reduction goal established by AB 32 (achieve the 1990 level of emissions by 2020), and later scenarios to realize the 2030 goal. Based on California’s broad portfolio of measures, the state achieved the 2020 goal 4 years early.

What’s Carbon Neutrality?

The Draft Plan defines carbon neutrality as balancing the online flux of GHG emissions from all sources and sinks. This figure from the Draft Plan is useful in illustrating what this implies (see page 22 of the Draft Plan):

2022 Scoping Plan Update

As with past scoping plan processes, CARB – together with sister agencies, advisory committees, and other stakeholders – organized greater than a dozen public workshops, released draft analyses and modeling results, reports and presentations, and repeatedly solicited comments and input from all interested parties. Throughout this process, CARB framed the work of the Scoping Plan by specifying the parameters that the plan would wish to satisfy. Specifically, each scenario assessed within the plan must (1) be consistent with existing legislative mandates and executive orders, (2) meet GHG reduction goals, and (3) work in concert with existing and emerging air quality programs.

The Draft Plan analyzes 4 alternative scenarios to perform all of this and provides detailed evaluation identifying trade-offs for every scenario, balancing aspects including advantages, costs, minimizing leakage, and technological feasibility. Within the draft, CARB staff recommends a Proposed Scenario (Alternative 3) that is predicted to make sure the state achieves its 2030 reduction goal, in addition to achieving carbon neutrality by no later than 2045 through actions that can lead to a 91% reduction in petroleum by 2045 (from 2022 levels), a lower cost to the economy than the opposite alternatives assessed, and significant health advantages in comparison with the reference business-as-usual scenario. CARB describes this Proposed Scenario because the “most economically and technologically feasible path to carbon neutrality, including providing equity-based solutions focused on affordability and job preservation.”

The Proposed Scenario also pairs dramatically reducing fossil emissions with climate smart management actions to boost natural and dealing land (NWL) ecosystem functions and improve resilience and achieve more stable carbon sequestration, in addition to carbon capture and sequestration and direct air capture technologies. With respect to NWL particularly, CARB staff determined that the Proposed Scenario, compared to the alternatives assessed, “provides the very best balance of carbon stock outcomes, GHG emission reductions, increased pace/scale of climate motion, costs and economic impacts, implementation feasibility, and co-benefits from land management across the NWL landscapes.” (Draft Plan at 55).

NWL activities within the Proposed Scenario include treating 2-2.5 million acres of overstocked forests, grasslands, and shrublands annually to revive ecosystem health and resiliency, reduce wildfire emissions, and improve water quantity and quality. This is able to represent an approximate 10x increase from current activity levels. Additional actions include increasing healthy soil practices (a 5x increase), increasing organic agriculture (a 2x increase), increasing (by 20% annually) investments in urban forests, and increasing wetland restoration and desert protections. Figure 1-9 from the Draft Plan gives a great sense of scale for existing carbon stocks.

See Tables 2-2 and 2-3 of the Draft Plan for the total scope and scale of actions included within the Proposed Scenario.

Analytical process

The process under which this Scoping Plan is developed is bar none probably the most comprehensive, public, transparent process there may be – spanning multiple years, dozens of public workshops and webinars, several informational and formal Board hearings, discussions with the California legislature, meetings of the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, and ultimately, incorporation of much of the general public feedback and comments.

As well as, each Scoping Plan is required to undertake various forms of legal, economic, and technical analyses. These include analyses required by AB 197 (Chapter 250, Statutes of 2016) of the estimated social costs (avoided economic damage) of measures considered, cost per ton, and estimated air quality advantages of a policy (AB 197 measures); public health and economic impacts analyses (macro, household, and jobs); and environmental evaluation pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. The Draft Plan continues these assessments, but at a good greater level of detail than in previous plans.

The 2022 Scoping Plan Update also includes an unprecedented level of detailed evaluation, modeling, and transparent documentation of modeling results to actually show the challenges and opportunities we must address in our NWLs at the identical time as we proceed to drive down fossil emissions. The NWL work on this Draft Plan sets a recent bar on scientific evaluation for assessing multiple landscapes at state-wide scale.

International implications

Certainly one of California’s biggest climate leadership mantels is its engagement with partner jurisdictions to develop and export policies. The way through which the Scoping Plan has been developed and the evaluation it includes should provide a useful framework for other jurisdictions to evaluate what can and should be done of their territories.

The plan highlights examples of how California has bolstered, leveraged, and commenced the forms of cross-jurisdictional engagements and partnerships which might be critical for addressing the climate crisis. These include the Zero Emission Vehicle Alliance, the Under2Coalition, the U.S. Climate Alliance, bilateral relationships with states/provinces and countries, and the Governors’ Climate and Forests (GCF) Task Force. (Draft Plan at 19-21.) As I even have reported on previously, the GCF Task Force secretariat shall be transitioning to the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law starting in July 2022.

These engagements already function vital policy laboratories for developing, implementing, and testing emission reduction activities at jurisdiction scale; and the Draft Plan may provide a useful model for other jurisdictions to similarly assess drivers of emissions and a combination of opportunities and actions to realize significant emissions reductions. This will also function a model for attract and direct smart, climate-focused finance.

Next Steps

California’s portfolio approach to addressing climate change has decreased emissions while the economy has grown. This plan seeks to be sure that progress continues through the necessarily steeper and more ambitious actions which might be needed to realize carbon neutrality. The Draft Plan is currently out for public comment and can go before the CARB Board for consideration on June 23, 2022, and for final approval at the top of the yr.

Once finalized, California will proceed its enormous efforts of addressing GHG emissions on the planet’s 5th largest economy by assessing existing programs and regulations for updates or revisions, after which by continuing with their successful implementation. For any jurisdiction, this can be a Herculean task. For much of the world, the capability to conduct this sort of analytical work after which to implement it could even feel like a Sisyphean undertaking. But that’s where California’s approach of engaging and creating partnerships, sharing lessons, and learning from others is so key. As the ultimate chapter of the Draft Plan – aptly titled “Challenge Accepted” – notes:

“We must construct partnerships with academic institutions, private industry, and others to support and speed up the transition to carbon neutrality. Ultimately, the success of the 2022 Scoping Plan update shall be measured by our ability to implement the actions modeled within the Proposed Scenario in any respect levels of presidency and society. It will rely upon a combination of legislative motion, regulatory program development, incentives, institutional support, workforce and business development, education and outreach, community engagement, and research and development and deployment. Optimizing this mix will help to be sure that clean energy and other climate mitigation strategies are clear, winning alternatives within the marketplace and in communities—to advertise equity, drive innovation, and encourage consumer adoption. Daring institutional motion will catalyze continued research and push private investment to create jobs and convey revolutionary ideas to reality.” (Draft Plan at 215.)

It’s, after all, vital to state that no plan is ideal. And this plan doesn’t purport to be. Nevertheless it has clear goals – meet the law, get steep reductions, profit households and jobs and minimize economic impacts. And pursuant to AB 32, CARB must proceed to evaluate progress along the way in which and update the plan at the very least once every five years.

To the hard-working civil servants and partners who’ve developed this plan, kudos. And stick with it.  What you might be doing is of immense import to the world!


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