We appreciate California’s heroic measures to take responsibility and show leadership where it can on climate change:
Over the past decade, California has passed a sweeping set of climate laws to test a contentious theory: that it’s possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions far beyond what any other state has done and still enjoy robust economic growth.
Now that theory faces its biggest test yet. Last August, the State Legislature set a goal of slashing emissions more than 40 percent below today’s levels by 2030, a far deeper cut than President Barack Obama proposed for the entire United States and deeper than most other countries have contemplated.
So how will California pull this off?
On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law expanding the state’s cap-and-trade program, which is expected to play a big role. But cutting greenhouse gases this deeply will involve more than cap and trade. The state plans to rethink every corner of its economy, from urban planning to dairy farms.
No one knows yet if it can succeed. “You can think of California as a giant laboratory” for climate action, said Severin Borenstein of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
If California prevails, it could provide a model for other policy makers, even as President Trump scales back the federal government’s efforts on climate change. The state may also develop new technologies that the rest of the world can use to cut emissions.
And if California falters, or if the experiment proves too costly? “Other states and countries will be watching that, too,” Mr. Borenstein said.
Entering Uncharted Territory
Until now, most states have followed a standard playbook for curbing emissions. Market forces have replaced older coal plants with cheaper and cleaner natural gas, while state mandates have added modest shares of wind and solar power to the grid. As a result, domestic carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 14 percent since 2005 at relatively little cost.
But California has now plucked most of that low-hanging fruit. The state’s emissions are nearly back to 1990 levels, it barely uses any coal and it has installed as many solar panels as the rest of the country combined. Per capita, California has the third-lowest emissions in the nation, after New York and the District of Columbia, which means further cuts will come less easily than they would for a state like Texas.
“Each additional increment of carbon reduction is tougher than the previous one,” said Dan Reicher, director of the Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford. He added, “California will have to reach deeper into the bag of technologies” to cut emissions from more stubborn polluters like oil refineries and cement plants.
In January, California’s Air Resources Board, which has broad latitude to carry out the state’s climate laws, detailed one possible strategy for cutting emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030…
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