Opinion: California can provide a climate roadmap for the world

‘Getting this plan right is an incredible opportunity’

By Louise Bedsworth

Special to CalMatters

On a number of occasions, Gov. Gavin Newsom has aptly noted that “a budget is a statement of values.” With the introduction of the state’s 2022-23 spending plan last month, California put its money where its mouth is.

In fact, the governor proposed a whopping $22.5 billion to advance clean energy and transportation, forest health and sustainable communities in California. This comes on top of an historic $15 billion investment in complementary climate initiatives last year.

Much has been written about this mountain of money for climate action – and rightly so. But deeper in the bowels of state government, is an even more consequential component of the state’s effort to decarbonize that will be released in 2022 and guide action for years to come: California’s Climate Change Scoping Plan.

This plan – first published in 2008 and updated in 2013 and 2017 – concretely details how California will meet its increasingly ambitious goals to reduce near- and long-term emissions, and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The 2022 update will specifically show what it will take to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 or earlier. It will need to chart action on everything from zero-emission mobility to grid decarbonization and building efficiency. It must also inventory all emissions, assess quantitative emission reduction potential and include key accountability metrics. Put simply: it’s a roadmap for our future.

Getting this plan right is a massive challenge across government, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to improve on the previous plan, incorporate what we’ve learned in recent years and, hopefully, avert climate catastrophe. To that end, it’s critical the next Scoping Plan clearly address the following three key questions:

First, how will we reduce methane and other potent climate pollutants?

Methane and other “short-lived climate pollutants” are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. Near-term emission reductions in methane and other high global warming potential gases buy some time to transform our economy and transition to clean energy. California’s Short-Lived Climate Pollutant plan includes a commitment to reduce methane emissions 40% below 2013 levels by 2030, which is more aggressive than the recent Global Methane Pledge. Further detailing how this commitment will be met in the Scoping Plan will provide a valuable model for the rest of the world.

Second, what role can nature-based solutions and sustainable land use development play?

The conservation, restoration and regeneration of natural and working lands – forests, rangelands, farms and wetlands – can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, remove and store carbon, and boost resilience. This means more open space, habitat, sustainable food production, flood protection, and water retention and storage across the state.

California has committed to protecting 30% of its land by 2030. The Scoping Plan can demonstrate how this commitment will contribute to meeting greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. Conservation and restoration of these lands goes hand in hand with smart land use strategies, which better connect people with jobs, schools, services and transportation options that reduce vehicle emissions, including walking, biking, micromobility and public transit.

Third, how can we jointly reduce emissions and build resilience to a changing climate?

As the climate continues to change, it is important that the Scoping Plan advance integrated approaches and prioritize actions that reduce emissions while also building resilience in our built, natural and social systems. This will require creatively linking actions across sectors, building pathways for workers and communities to make economic transitions, and centering equity and justice in policy design and implementation.

Time and time again, California has shown the world a path forward on climate. This year, we have the opportunity to pair record climate investments with an ambitious roadmap to meet our climate goals. If we get this right we will not only make life better for Californians, but also create a model for the rest of the world.

Louise Bedsworth is the Land Use Program director at the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment and a senior adviser to the California-China Climate Institute, both housed at UC Berkeley School of Law. She was previously executive director of the California Strategic Growth Council under California Govs. Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown.

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