Last week, California passed new climate bills to help accelerate the state’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and reach net zero by 2050. This news carries with it the sense of urgency that, based on recent IPCC reports, the window to avoid further catastrophic climate change impacts is closing and that some damage is even irreversible.
It is increasingly clear to scientists, politicians, and citizens alike that the severity of climate change ahead depends on how quickly the world reduces GHG emissions.
What California’s New Climate Legislation Means for Climate Change Efforts
The optimist’s take is that California’s recent legislative successes, passing all but one of Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposals, are a significant step in the right direction. The bills establish a legally binding goal for California to achieve statewide carbon neutrality as soon as possible, and no later than 2045, along with more aggressive interim targets to achieve clean electricity.
Long recognized as a pioneer in climate leadership, California is one of 24 States that have joined the United States Climate Alliance (USCA), committing to set and reach measurable climate emissions reduction targets that are aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement. This bipartisan Alliance, created to fill the void left by the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement during the Trump administration, has succeeded in creating strong positive momentum in its bid to transform the American economy while preparing it for a net-zero future and ensuring equity, environmental justice, and a just-economic transition.
The significance of California’s recent legislative successes mirrors the wider, national context in which a critical mass of governors from both sides of the political divide have stepped up to the plate to inject vital political will into the process with the deliberate intention of sharply accelerating progress on climate change. Looking at the USCA’s collective achievements, there is the tangible sense that this over-arching policy and action framework, now strengthened by federal-level support and involvement, could very well be the foundation that is necessary to motivate and embrace the wider and more disparate contributions of America’s industries, companies, communities, and citizens.
What California’s New Climate Legislation Means for Businesses
American businesses have traditionally pointed out that the uncertainty generated by periodic swings of the political pendulum have hindered their efforts to make the investments in their businesses, products and/or services that are necessary to set and reach ambitious climate targets. The US Climate Alliance explicitly sets out to provide the kind of political stability that businesses, industry initiatives, and other stakeholders require to more confidently carve out their own roadmaps towards carbon neutrality and climate resilience.
Viewed in this wider context, California’s most recent climate bills appear to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of positive political steps being taken across America. They are a clear signal of the growing personal and institutional convictions that are gathering pace and influence beneath the humdrum of business-as-usual, and that business and community leaders can draw inspiration from, to set and push for ever-more ambitious climate-related and wider sustainability targets and action plans.
California Needs to Stay Focused and Not Become Complacent With Climate Goals
The critical view of California’s recent climate bills includes the observation that the State is lagging significantly in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This can be seen with the 1.6% reduction between 2018 and 2019 vs. the 4.3% annual reduction that would be necessary to reach the target of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
This perspective offers the benefit of reminding all of us to stay grounded and focused and not allow ourselves to be carried away by bursts of unproductive wishful thinking that might breed complacency and hamper our collective efforts. As the scientists continue to remind us, incremental progress is not enough. What we need is radical, systemic change.
Taking the best from both the glass-full and glass-empty perspectives, we can perhaps conclude that the State of California’s progress – and more widely, the progress of the US Climate Alliance – serves to sharpen the resolve and focus of all stakeholders to think and act big, while also factoring social and economic justice into the equation. In practice, this involves setting both ambitious policies and targets and incremental goals, measuring, and communicating progress and mobilizing everyone in their sphere of influence (states, cities, communities, citizens, employees, clients, suppliers) to join in, innovate and turn the tide.