California’s getting greener, but it needs to pick up the pace. The state won’t meet its 2030 emissions goals until 2050 unless it takes aggressive action, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Next 10, called the 2021 California Green Innovation Index.
“California needs to achieve sustained reductions on a scale we have never come close to,” said Next 10 founder F. Noel Perry in a press release last week. “It’s really a major test of our climate leadership.”
The report found that California reduced emissions by 1.6 percent between 2018 and 2019, which is the state’s second biggest emissions drop in the past decade. It’s still not enough to achieve the state’s ambitious targets. By 2030, California hopes to slash its greenhouse emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels. To reach that goal, it needs to cut emissions by 4.3 percent a year—almost three times faster than its current reduction rate.
California’s top emitters aren’t surprising. The report found that transportation is the state’s top polluting sector, contributing a whopping 40.7 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions. In general, Californians are buying more cars and using public transit less. While more people are buying electric cars, “we urgently need to help accelerate the adoption of zero-emissions vehicles in the immediate future,” says Perry.
The state’s second-worst emitter is its catastrophic wildfires, which are themselves fueled by climate change. In 2020, the August Complex Fire alone produced more greenhouse gases than the state’s entire commercial sector. California’s forests and shrublands usually serve as essential carbon sinks, but wildfires and mismanagement have changed that. According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state’s natural and working lands have become a net source of emissions instead.
As for other sources of emissions, an increasing number of Californians rely on natural gas in their homes, which is concerning since methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The state’s declining recycling rate contributes to emissions, too. The report says residents sent 2.7 million more tons of waste to landfills in 2019 than 2018.
While the report admits its findings paint a “worrisome picture,” it did note several bright spots. California successfully met its goal to transition to 33 percent renewable energy by 2020, and the state’s clean energy sector is thriving, with the highest concentration of clean and green energy jobs in the nation. However, the state hopes that renewables will generate 50 percent of its power by 2026, but renewable use will need to double its current growth rate to achieve that goal. The report also applauded a slew of recent state policy decisions, including the state’s new commitment to conserving 30 percent of its natural lands by 2030, the first of its kind in the nation.
“As California and the nation look ahead to prospects for policies that help strengthen our economy while protecting our environment,” the report says, “it is worth highlighting how far the state has come.”