Project California

As the national US climate policy effort struggles under the Trump Administration, California has remained steadfast in following the scientific evidence underlying ambitious mitigation and adaptation efforts. These ambitions are under threat at the national level, and so the state has focused increasingly on forming alliances with other states and nations for whom policy is evidence based. The CCRM is pleased to join that effort by facilitating interactions with climate programmes in other nations in which we have been working - primarily the UK, EU, China, India, Abu Dhabi, Mexico and Japan.

If California is to take such a leadership position, it must lead by example. It is therefore instructive to see where the state stands in the 'league tables' of emissions. The data below for the US are from the Energy Information Administration update of 2014. The first is total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by state - large states will compare poorly to smaller states simply due to population size. Note that California is the second highest contributor to the national emissions, and therefore has a significant role in national emissions.

However, California also has a very large population. A more relevant metric is annual energy-related carbon dioxide emissions per capita, as shown below. California's standing now improves appreciably, up to third best (third lowest per capita emissions) in the US, with slightly above 9 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year. If other greenhouse gases are included, this value rises to 11 tons of carbon dioxide equivalence (CO2e) per person per year since agriculture is a significant part of the California economy, leading to nitrogen oxide emissions, another greenhouse gas. The breakdown into the different GHGs and sources can be found HERE at the California Air Resources Board website.

The trend in California is towards reductions, with a 25% decrease since 2000, again almost - but not quite - leading the nation in mitigation. The percentage reduction is weakened to 18% when per capita emissions are considered, although this also is a strong reduction trajectory.

Carbon intensity of the economy also shows California in the top 5 (lowest emissions per unit GDP), with a value of 170 metric tons of carbon dioxide per million USD of GDP. By contrast, the national average for the US is 339, or twice that of California.

How does California compare globally? Annual per capita emissions are currently about 9.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person. This compares well with the UK and many of the EU nations (France is lower due to the use of nuclear power). However, the global goal is for all nations to converge onto a value of around 2 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person per year (see the page on Targets for CCRM projects). California must reduce by another factor of 4 (75%) by 2050. The state is heading in that direction and the ambitious climate policies of California are designed to keep the state on track for such reductions, equaling or exceeding the reductions in EU nations while maintaining a strong economy.

California can be proud of how much it has accomplished and of the climate ambitions and policies it has put in place. This puts it into a legitimate position of leadership nationally and globally even if the US national effort falters under the current administration. That bodes well for the ability of the state to form fruitful and practical alliances with more forward-thinking governments of the world. And it is a strong incentive for the CCRM to help in any way needed.

Greater detail on emissions in the state can be found in the two graphs/charts above, taken from the California Air Resources Board report which can be found HERE.  Even greater detail can be found in the following CARB pie chart:

Note first that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, emissions per capita and emissions per unit of GDP have all been reducing over the past 20 years. As of 2017, per capita emissions had declined by almost 25%, a significant accomplishment as both the population and economy grew. This reduction is in line with the achievements of the most progressive European nations and demonstrates that a narrative arguing that one can either have a strong emissions target or strong economy is scientifically wrong.

Drilling down...

Project California supports states and nations in their efforts to decarbonize. In addition, CCRM has two related projects at smaller scale:
You can learn more about these programs by following the links.
The chart on the right above shows a breakdown of the emissions by sector (with more detail in the chart below that). Note the dominance of Transportation, suggesting a need for innovation (high efficiency and/or electric vehicles) and behavioral change (mode choice) in that sector. Be careful about conclusions drawn from the Industrial, Residential and Commercial sectors, since you will see these are reported separately from the Electricity sector. In reality, these first three sectors draw on the electricity from the grid, and so the emissions from electricity generation should be attributed to the ultimate end-users, the Industrial, Residential and Commercial consumers. As the grid is decarbonized further, emissions from the three sectors will also decline, although not proportionately since electricity is only one of the forms of energy used in these sectors. All three sectors will therefore benefit from improvements in energy efficiency of industrial processes, homes and commercial buildings. Again, much greater detail on each sector's emissions can be found in the
 CARB report.

How are these efforts translating into on-the-ground changes in the carbon emissions for California? Again, CARB provides a useful graph:

At first glance, this graph conveys positive news. The state is on track to exceed the emissions reduction set for 2020. However, the news is not all good. Global climate policy suggests California must reduce emissions by 80% compared to 1990. This will require reducing those emissions by another factor of 4. That is a large challenge that cannot be reached without significant improvements in efficiency of energy use, reduction of car travel, dramatic roll-out of low carbon energy from wind and solar (or more contentiously, nuclear), and ambitious behavioral changes by California citizens.

This is even more evident in another graph from the CARB report:

It is immediately clear that much more progress has been made in reducing emissions from the state electricity grid than in other sectors. As the grid is decarbonizing, it might be expected that the Commercial and Residential sector emissions would go down, but they are staying rather flat. This is in part due to a growing population, but also due to growth in 'plug load', or devices we plug into the wall sockets such as TVs, computers and appliances. The need for behavioral change as consumers is evident in this problem.

How has the carbon intensity of the state's electricity grid improved over time? This is shown in the figure below, produced from data in the CARB 2000–2017 GHG Emissions Trends Report Data. Note the dramatic improvement over the past several years.

Finally, the CCRM effort (and Project California) uses the three tier strategy so common in the EU policy. Starting with the most important changes that will be needed to reduce emissions, the CCRM supports efforts to:
  • Tier 1:Change behavior so people do not feel the need to waste energy and material goods (e.g. put on a jumper or sweater if you are slightly chilly in your home or business, rather than turning up the thermostat)
  • Tier 2: Improve the efficiency of use (e.g. retrofit your property with insulation, bring in a high efficiency boiler)
  • Tier 3: Supply the remaining energy or material need with lower carbon alternatives (e.g. continue to decarbonize the state's electricity grid)
People often jump to the third tier, in part because investors know how to return a profit on solutions in that tier, but not for the other two. The first two are equally important and must be tackled at the same time, or we will simply be pouring energy into a sieve!

California's climate policies span the range of sectors that influence carbon emissions and climate change. Learn about these through the CARB website

What about the consumer?

Now for a brief note concerning who is responsible for global emissions. So far, international climate policy has been based on 'territorial emissions'. Those are emissions that occur in your home or city or country as a result of your consumption of energy and goods. But the landscape of policy is changing as the more developed nations 'outsource' their manufacturing to poorer nations. This makes it appear the developed nations are reducing their emissions from the industrial and agricultural sectors, and that the developing nations are rapidly increasing their emissions (both statements are true, but...). Policies focused on territorial emissions are what we call production-based policies. To be fair, they should be paired with consumption-based policies that assign the emissions from creating something to the point of consumption, not solely to the point of production. When that happens, the apparent emissions in developed nations such as the US increase by another 25% or more.

Such policies have the aim of changing consumer behavior by either decreasing consumption of goods, or changing the decisions of consumers towards lower carbon goods (or both). California should therefore consider how to influence or nudge the decisions of its residents towards lower carbon options. The point is not to deny human needs, but rather to help consumers understand that reasonable needs can be met with much lower carbon options than we currently select. To learn more about this issue, travel to the Letters from America page of the CCRM and select the Consumer Change paper based on research we and others conducted as part of the Carbon CAP project of the European Union, which examined dozens of potential consumer-based policy tools and assessed their likely effectiveness. 

The Carbon CAP study considered several dozen potential consumer-based policy tools as a way to bring about these changes. We considered how much carbon is embodied in the goods we consume in different categories; what the 'pick up rate' (percentage of consumers who adopt the desired behavior) is likely to be based on past experience with consumer policies; and the legal, social, economic and political challenges faced when implementing each instrument. We then sorted the instruments into a 'traffic light' pattern of red (the instrument is very difficult to implement and/or ineffective at producing behavioral change), green (the instrument is simple to implement and effective at producing behavioral change) and yellow (between red and green). You can see the results in the table below, taken from one of our project reports.

If you have solutions to any of the the above issues, Contact Us at CCRM and we will connect you to other innovators and to businesses and governments eager to learn from you.