California has already adopted some of the world's most aggressive policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Now Gov. Jerry Brown has raised the bar even higher — setting a new, more ambitious target to reduce the pollutants that are responsible for climate change. On Wednesday, he issued an executive order calling for the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, matching a target set by the European Union last year.
The directive puts California way ahead of other states and the federal government. Last fall, President Obama committed to cutting the nation's greenhouse gas emissions to about 27% below 2005 levels by 2025, but even that more modest goal is unlikely to win the support of conservative Republicans, who see the battle against climate change as a costly and unnecessary war on cheap and plentiful energy.
Brown faces similar though less vociferous opposition. He argues that California can prove — and has proved — that reducing carbon doesn't have to be an obstacle to a strong, growing economy. That's mostly true. The state is on track to meet the ambitious targets established in 2006 by AB 32, the landmark bill to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Moving to more renewable energy and less use of fossil fuels has not tanked the state's economy or overwhelmed residents with costly price increases.
The governor's new target sets a similar 15-year timeline, sending a clear signal to businesses and entrepreneurs that California will continue to lead the nation in investing in technologies that can reduce pollution. He has also outlined specific goals to help reach the 2030 target, including requiring that half of the state's electricity come from renewable sources, cutting the use of petroleum fuel in cars and trucks by half, and doubling the energy efficiency of buildings. However, Brown and legislative leaders should acknowledge that more ambitious targets will make it more expensive to live, work and do business in California. Fighting climate change is a costly proposition. State officials need to be smart about the regulations they adopt and honest about the challenges.
Brown is right to set the course, even if it is risky — and even though we all know that California can't solve the problem of climate change by itself. The world faces a terrible threat and is already seeing the effects, in more intense droughts and heat waves, diminished crop yields in some areas and floods from rising sea levels. Too few political leaders are willing to confront these realities or pay the price required to reverse or at least minimize them. It's time for other states, the U.S. government and more countries around the world to step up rather than foisting the problem onto the next generation.