California Leaders See Climate Action as a Winning Political Issue

567465036_2f33f6506e_bIt’s always inspiring to see people stand up and fight for issues that matter to them. In our world, when politics can at times seem petty or backwards, it’s especially uplifting to see politicians do this. And that’s exactly what’s happening inside California’s state capitol.

The three most powerful political leaders in the state – Governor Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins – are moving in lockstep to enact an ambitious long-term climate and clean energy agenda. Yesterday, we witnessed a major demonstration of that political leadership when the pro tem and speaker marshalled support to move fundamental pieces of legislation through a key part of the lawmaking process – passing bills through their respective houses of origin.

The bills currently under consideration put in place a climate pollution reduction target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and reaffirm the ongoing role of market-mechanisms like cap-and-trade in California. They accomplish this while also codifying the governor’s goals to meet half of our energy demand with renewable energy, double energy efficiency in existing buildings, cut our harmful petroleum addiction in half, and reduce climate pollution 40 percent below 1990 levels all by 2030.

This practical, common-sense agenda to clean up California’s air builds on the state’s legacy of proven policies that deliver economic, social, and environmental wins. These same policies are also attracting growing industries, adding local advanced energy jobs, and creating more affordable and clean energy, transportation, and lifestyle choices.

A proven track record makes for good politics
The governor, pro tem, and speaker are not alone in their focus on climate action. Recent polling indicates that 70 percent of Californians support AB 32 – California’s 2006 landmark climate change law setting a goal of reducing climate pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. Better still, 83 percent of Californians support the goal of getting to 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030. Break these figures out by different regions across the state and the numbers remain high across every demographic, everywhere. With support from a diverse set of stakeholders including healthcare providers, multinational corporations, environmental justice organizations, and labor, it is clear these bills represent a winning formula for California.

But California is not a political utopia – we haven’t won over everyone. The good news is, evidence is piling up that climate and clean energy policies are what’s right for California, regardless of your political affiliation or where you live in the state. This agenda does not have to be a partisan political agenda, because we are proving it is a people agenda.

Consider how our existing climate and clean energy policies are boosting our economy, expanding opportunities, and improving public health. In the midst of implementing the country’s most ambitious climate protection program, California is growing faster than the national average by every indication: gross domestic product (GDP), jobs, venture capital investment, and clean tech. In 2014 alone, California captured more than half of the total U.S. clean tech venture capital investment ($2.8 of the $5.5 billion), and over $20 billion since AB 32 (the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) was passed – more than the rest of the country combined. Over 400,000 Californians are now employed in the clean energy economy and these jobs are growing at a rate 10 times faster than the rate of overall job growth. And these are just the results we have seen so far.

By 2030, the state’s innovative clean transportation policies will save Californians over $8 billion on health care costs due to fewer asthma attacks, respiratory and cardiac hospitalizations, and premature deaths from poor air quality. Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism, one of the reasons why the California PTA recently called climate change “a children’s issue” and called for further action in the classroom and in policy circles.

The road ahead
In an exciting era where the news is increasingly dominated by headlines such as “California Helps Low Income Drivers Switch to Electric Cars,” “California Plans to Offer Free Solar Panels to Its Poorest Citizens,” and “Best State for Business? Yes, California” elected officials are eager to see progress continue.

Thanks to the first three years of cap-and-trade, over $3 billion of auction funds have been budgeted and are starting to make their way out the door to deploy more distributed energy like solar, invigorate public transit, make cleaner cars more affordable, and increase the health and resilience of working and natural lands. Even in parts of the state where political leaders have not fully embraced climate action, we are already seeing tens of millions of dollars of investment being deployed which result in tangible benefits, especially in economically and environmentally disadvantaged communities.

Yesterday’s events represent a major step in the policymaking process to combat climate change and promote a sustainable economy powered by clean energy – and our elected officials rose to the challenge. Now, we need to keep this momentum up through the end of the legislative session this summer, and continue to expand the circle of supporters for this critical and transformational agenda.

As usual, the eyes of the world are trained on California, and as our climate policies are attracting economic growth at home, we are attracting new partners in other states and countries. World leaders will be gathering in Paris later this year for the U.N. climate conference and California’s long-term commitments and early wins will set an inspiring example for others to follow.

Photo source: Flickr/jjkback

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