Long-Term Emission Reduction Goal Starts with Post-2020 Policies

Independent experts and leaders in California agree that the state is on track to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution to 1990 levels by 2020.  That was one finding from a report released by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL) today.  In this goal, California is somewhat like the weekend warrior, harboring dreams of running a marathon but focused on the immediate milestone just ahead – running a 5K next weekend.

Make no mistake, the Golden State has a bigger target on the horizon — reducing GHG pollution 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 – a marathon-like challenge that can seem daunting, especially to a state still in 5K mode, working to meet its more immediate 2020 goal.

Like any long-term training though, our would-be marathoner might first need to target their work outs toward running a half marathon.  Similarly, the California Air Resources Board and the Governor's Office of Planning and research have recently recommended that rather than focus on 2050, California should set a mid-term target for reducing pollution by 2030.

The LBNL report also demonstrates the wisdom of this approach.  The research looks at three policy scenarios and explores what reductions each would achieve: 1) policies California has already committed to i.e. those used to reach the 2020 target, 2) a suite of policies that reflects current proposals to strengthen existing policies and 3) strengthened scenario two policies plus likely technology upgrades like more electric vehicles and higher efficiency in cars and trucks.  The research found under the second and third scenarios, which are both considered realistic, emissions would decline by 32% or 50%, respectively, below 1990 levels by 2030. 2050 was not the focus of the study but the report did conclude that more would be needed beyond scenario three to meet the 2050 target.

The fact that reaching our 2050 target will be challenging shouldn't come as a surprise, just like it wouldn't be a surprise to find out that a new training regimen might be needed to run a marathon.  A 2011 study, by some of the same researchers, showed that California needs significant innovation before we can reach our 2050 target.  This effort to decarbonize our state may include technologies such as cost-effective carbon capture and sequestration, almost completely electrifying our personal car fleet, and developing reliable electricity storage.  It might seem like a lot now, but just think about all of the innovations we didn't have 30 years ago (the internet comes to mind) and more importantly, what critics said about the initial 2020 goals.

Like training for any long race, new research will help us focus on the magnitude of the challenges ahead.  This push will lead California and others to focus on policies that create and encourage innovations like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard and other clean energy policies.  This task also shows the importance of setting concrete intermediate goals showing where we want to be in 15 years.  And as we approach 2030, we can anticipate that innovation and an unwavering commitment to reducing greenhouse gas pollution will bring our 2050 targets into reach and get us past the finish line.

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