The third largest state (163,694 sq miles) California is home to almost 40 million people. It is gorgeous with a scenic diversity hard to match, from beach to mountain, from wine country to redwood forest, from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe.
As the average annual temperature has risen by approximately 2˚F since the early 20th century (the summer of 2021 being the hottest on record) its climate change vulnerabilities are as diverse as its landscape — suffering increasing heat, droughts, flooding, sea level rise and ever-more frequent and severe wildfires. Its deserts are some of the hottest and driest, while its higher elevations can experience low temperature and heavy snowfall. In the summer, the North Pacific High and jet stream moves northward, keeping storms north of the state and resulting in dry summers. In the winter, this system moves southward, allowing storms to bring precipitation. Because of its large north-south extent, and the several mountain ranges, extreme climate events often affect only a portion of the state.
As America’s most productive agricultural state, the decreased precipitation since 2011 has contributed to near record low levels in the Shasta Reserve and threatened farmland. California has 840 miles of coastland (only bested by Florida and Alaska) and global sea level is projected to rise another 1-4 feet by 2100. These events can damage infrastructure, cause road closures, and overwhelm storm drains, not to mention cause salty water to intrude into the Delta through the San Francisco Bay. 7,618 wildfires, as of September 23, have been recorded in 2021, burning 2,359,871 acres. It is almost unimaginable.
Already in 2006, California had set a goal to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 with the Global Warming Solutions Act. In 2016 they committed to a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
A key element of California’s climate plan has been the state’s cap-and-trade program, which sets a statewide limit on sources responsible for 85% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and establishes a price signal needed to drive long-term investment in cleaner fuels and more efficient use of energy.
In September 2018, Governor Jerry Brown accelerated the state’s goals to carbon neutrality by 2045; to negative emissions thereafter; to clean transportation by reducing petroleum use 45% by 2030; to 5 million electric vehicles by 2030; to 100% clean energy by 2045; to double the rate of energy efficiencies in buildings, and to extend and improve the state’s cap-and-trade program (additionally directing the revenues to greenhouse gas reducing programs which benefit disadvantaged communities).
Calling climate change “a threat to human existence, ”Governor Brown said, weeks before leaving office in 2018, “I’d say California has taken more intelligent action on climate change than any state or province in the Western Hemisphere.”
Data from the California Energy Commission estimated that in 2019, 36% of the state’s retail electricity sales were provided by renewable sources such as solar and wind. When sources of carbon free energy such as large hydroelectric generation and nuclear were included, that number reached 63%.
Governor Gavin Newsom took early steps in 2019 on climate change but doubled down in September, 2021 when he signed a $15 billion climate package, the largest such investment in state history, which included investments in drought response, forest management and climate risk mitigation. Calling Thursday’s legislation a “landmark bill,” assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) said wildfire prevention and forest health are of critical importance.
An offshore wind bill co-sponsored by Environment California sailed through the California state legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom at the same time. AB 525 requires state regulators to set a goal for offshore wind development and moves California another step closer to using the wind off its coasts for clean renewable energy.
California is one of twenty-four states, and Puerto Rico, committed to the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is working to implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement.