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Climate Justice Must Factor into California’s Climate Strategy

Catalina Gonzalez | March 16, 2022

This is the first post in a series on climate justice in California.

State officials in California are leading an extensive multisector planning effort to develop the 2022 Scoping Plan, the third update to California’s climate mitigation strategy. The new plan will outline a pathway for statewide action toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions (i.e., carbon neutrality) no later than 2045.

California first established its distinctive planning approach for developing coordinated emissions reduction measures that also advance the state’s other climate and environmental justice goals under the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006 (AB32).

AB32 also established the first statewide emissions target limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and charged the California Air Resources Board (CARB) with developing and adopting a new scoping plan every five years. The first scoping plan was developed in 2008 and updated in 2014 to guide statewide action toward this goal, which was met in 2016. The focus of the previous 2017 Scoping Plan was coordinating state actions towards achieving an additional 40% reduction in emissions, which is the state's current target — which was extended by Senate Bill 32 (SB32).

Scoping plans are informed by California’s other major climate policy, including laws that created the state’s regulations for tailpipe emissions (AB1493) and renewable energy procurement requirements (SB1078) in 2002 before AB32, as well as by progress toward subsequent laws that mandate reduced emissions from driving in transportation planning (SB375), dairy and livestock operations (SB1383), and the electricity sector (SB100).

Scoping Plans identify the most cost-effective and maximum technologically feasible ways to reduce emissions greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants included in the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory from activities across the transportation, industrial, electric, building, agriculture, and waste management sectors, and incorporate other climate laws and mandates into a single cross-sector statewide plan.

In doing so, state officials are also required by statutes under AB32 and SB32 to prevent increases in other harmful air pollutants and consider the impact of actions on communities most heavily burdened by climate and environmental harms. In other words, scoping plans must consider not only climate mitigation but also climate justice — the health and safety of overburdened communities, which disproportionately comprise low-income people of color.

Since 2016, statewide emissions have remained below 1990 levels. However, despite this progress, total statewide emissions have decreased by only about 1% annually in recent years. Reaching California’s ambitious 2030 goal will require annual statewide emission reductions of at least 4% — nearly three times the current rate

Meanwhile, emissions of greenhouse gases and climate pollutants from the industrial and transportation sectors, the largest sources of statewide emissions (50 and 20%, respectively), have yielded only marginal reductions in recent years — not nearly enough to meet the state’s 2030 target or more ambitious goals.

What’s more, increases in the use of passenger vehicles, natural gas in residential and commercial buildings, and high levels of fossil fuel extraction and refining activities continue to drive up greenhouse gas emissions and toxins that disproportionately affect low-income Black, Brown and Indigenous communities of color.

From the standpoint of climate justice, California’s current mitigation strategy, which consists of a broad portfolio of regulations, programs, and incentives, is not sufficiently addressing air pollution, particularly in communities most impacted by environmental harms.

The 2022 Scoping Plan

Recent climate initiatives will factor into the 2022 scoping plan currently underway, including Executive Order N-79-20, which mandates ending sales of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035 and transitioning all heavy-duty vehicle fleets to zero-emission fleets by 2045. The order also calls for reductions in fossil fuel demand and a halt to new permits for fracking operations by 2024. Gov. Gavin Newsom has also requested that CARB study the feasibility of accelerating the target for economy-wide carbon neutrality from 2045 to 2035 in the scoping plan.

To develop possible scenarios to inform the plan, state officials are using a tool known as the E3’s PATHWAYS model to generate four greenhouse gas reduction and carbon neutrality scenarios that incorporate climate mandates. Two of the four scenarios will model carbon neutrality by 2035, while the other two will model it by 2045. The scenarios will lay out different timelines for phasing out fossil fuel combustion and transitioning to alternatives like hydrogen and biomass-based fuel, and the roll-out of incentives and zero-carbon technologies like wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewable sources of energy. Three of the four scenarios will estimate the need for carbon capture and sequestration. 

The modeling results will be applied to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s BenMAP tool to quantify state-level air quality and public health benefits. The results of the health impact analysis will then be applied to the economic analysis IMPLAN tool to estimate the costs and benefits of each scenario and analyze interactions among industries. The outcomes of each scenario will project anticipated emissions reductions and health and economic outcomes to inform the adoption of one scenario under the final scoping plan, scheduled to be finalized by the end of 2022. Based on these results, University of California researchers at Irvine will also conduct a granular analysis on impacts on regional air quality at the census tract level.

The 2022 Scoping Plan establishes the longest planning horizon of any statewide decarbonization plan, and will also incorporate a separate modeling effort to develop a framework to balance carbon sources and identify sinks in the natural and working lands sector to support the attainment of carbon neutrality by 2045.

The 2022 Scoping Plan process will engage experts, environmental justice advocates, and members of the public in workshopsand community meetings in the most impacted communities to assess California’s current progress toward its climate goals and address key environmental justice questions in order to guide climate action over the next few critical years and coming decades.

Major Questions Ahead

The 2022 Scoping Plan lies at the crossroads of the state’s existing climate mitigation strategy and a new path forward. But major questions lie ahead about the scoping process and substance of the final plan including the capacity and limitations of modeling exercises to accurately reflect real-world uncertainties and assumptions associated with the adoption and effectiveness of new technologies and changes in the market, and the full impacts on emissions and public health of the ongoing pandemic and wildfires.

The question of how meaningfully the current scoping plan process engages and ultimately incorporates the voices and recommendations of environmental justice advocates and communities has implications for vulnerable communities in the state, and also for climate justice in state-level climate planning more broadly.

A central question is whether, and to what extent, the final scoping plan will prioritize reducing disparities in air quality and public health associated with emissions in communities disproportionately affected by fossil-fuel-related air pollution that has been largely overlooked in the state’s approach to climate mitigation?

Scoping plans have historically been regarded as high-level planning tools that set the table for statewide action. This must change: The current plan must also consider the local impact of statewide strategies on social and environmental conditions in the state’s most affected and vulnerable communities. Justice and equity must drive it forward.

Check back here for future updates on California’s 2022 Scoping Plan. To learn more about this work, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media.


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