Gov. Jerry Brown accelerated California's effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions Wednesday, burnishing the state's reputation as a pacesetter in the battle against climate change.
In an executive order, Brown said the state must cut the pollutants to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2030, more than a decade after he leaves office.
That is an interim target, intended to help California lower emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050, a goal set by Brown's predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"In North America, California is now setting the pace, and we're very serious about it," Brown told a crowd of hundreds at a climate change conference in Los Angeles. "We're going to take whatever steps are needed to get the job done, because our future depends on it."
The governor's plan increases the pressure on lawmakers and businesses to create more renewable energy, cut gasoline use on state roads and make buildings more energy-efficient.
It also comes as the United Nations prepares for a major international summit on climate change later this year in Paris, which Brown plans to attend.
Brown's order aligns the state's goals with standards set by the European Union. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. conference, praised the governor's move.
"California's announcement is a realization and a determination that will gladly resonate with other inspiring actions within the United States and around the globe," she said in a statement.
The state emits only a tiny fraction of the globe's greenhouse gases. But environmental activists and others hope the ongoing efforts — and California's status as the world's seventh-largest economy — will spur others to action.
"I talk with people in Europe and China," said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. "They're very aware of what's going on in California. It does affect their thinking."
In his speech Wednesday morning, Brown urged politicians to focus on climate change even though the issue can seem "a bit remote and abstract."
He criticized Republicans in Congress who expressed doubt that global warming is real, including one who brought a snowball to the floor of the U.S. Senate to argue that the world is not getting hotter.
"That kind of magical thinking leads to disaster," Brown said. "If the federal government, in the legislative branch, can't get it right, then we in California are going to do our part to take care of business here."
California is on schedule to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — another goal set under Schwarzenegger. But meeting the eventual 2050 target would require the reductions to happen five times as fast.
With his interim goal, Brown wants to spur California to pick up the pace. At a second event in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Brown compared the effort to President Franklin D. Roosevelt mobilizing the country for World War II by cranking out military hardware.
"We transformed the entire economy," he said at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills.
State lawmakers are already working on proposals to help California cut greenhouse emissions. But business interests worry that new regulations will put the state's industries at a disadvantage and increase costs.
"As California continues its leadership role in addressing climate change, costs on business and impacts on jobs and competitiveness cannot be ignored," said a statement from Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce.
Oil companies have harshly criticized Brown's proposal to halve the amount of gasoline used on state roads, saying that the goal is unattainable.
In addition, utilities have chafed at a potential mandate to create more renewable energy.
Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who appeared at the Milken conference with Brown, said lawmakers were still ironing out the details of the legislation.
"The question is how do we get there, and that's part of the negotiations right now," he said.
California's drought is also a problem, leaving less water flowing through hydroelectric plants and requiring power plants to burn more natural gas to meet electricity demands.
However, as Brown pursues his climate goals, he has the backing of top Democrats in the Legislature and billionaire political donor Tom Steyer, who on Wednesday called California a global leader.
State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) said she would incorporate Brown's new order into her legislation on climate change, which would also turn Schwarzenegger's 2050 goal into law, like the 2020 mark.
Brown's target "fits perfectly," she said. "It's consistent with all the goals."
Putting the executive order into law, Pavley said, would help it "stand the test of time from one administration to the next."