California Meets Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions Goal 4 Years Early

The state has reduced its emissions to their lowest level since 1990, hitting the 2020 targets four years early.


May 31 2019, Updated 12:34 p.m. ET

Back in 2006, California set strict targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The state would have to reset its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, representing an overall 25 percent reduction. This wasn’t just a nebulous goal but a legal mandate, as the target was codified into state law

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But the Golden State doesn’t have to worry about missing that deadline, because it already achieved its 2020 goal — four years early.

State officials reported that emissions dropped to 429 million metric tons in 2016, a figure slightly lower than the 431 million metric tons produced in 1990. That means California has already beat its 2020 goal, which is roughly the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road. 

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“California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress, and delivered results,” Governor Jerry Brown said in a statement. “The next step is for California to cut emissions below 1990 levels by 2030 — a heroic and very ambitious goal.”

The California Air Resources Board additionally reported a 13 percent reduction in carbon pollution since the state’s 2004 peak, even as the economy grew by 26 percent. The state currently boasts a “carbon intensity” — meaning the amount of carbon pollution emitted per $1 million of gross state product — that’s half the national average.

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“In California we see the impacts of climate change all around us, but our efforts to curb its worst impacts are on track,” CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols said in the statement. “This is great news for the health of Californians, the state’s environment and its economy, even as we face the failure of our national leadership to address climate change.”

Renewable energy played a key role in this achievement, since the biggest emissions reductions were in the electricity sector. Solar power alone grew 33 percent, while natural gas, a “clean” energy source that is nevertheless derived from fossil fuels, dropped by over 15 percent.

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Moving forward, California’s biggest challenge will be chipping away at its transportation emissions. This sector represents the state’s largest source of greenhouse gases, and its emissions actually grew by 2 percent in 2016, due to increased fuel consumption. But, the report counters, California also saw a record rise in biofuels. State residents pumped 1.5 billion gallons of biodiesel, ethanol, and renewable diesel into their cars, preventing 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the California atmosphere.

The 2030 target will require California to cut its emissions an additional 40 percent below 1990 levels, a goal that the state is calling “the most ambitious carbon goal in North America.” But state officials seem optimistic about hitting, and so do observers. 

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“The world is watching as California sets the way forward,” Alex Jackson, a senior attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, told the AP. Hopefully, more states will follow their lead.

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