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California's Scoping Plan: Setting a Path for Climate Targets

By 3p Contributor

By Andy Wunder

Amid the big headlines about tax overhaul and wildfires in a season already full of holiday distractions, you would be forgiven for not noticing that California advanced an important climate initiative: the 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan.

“Scoping Plan” you wonder? Few people have ever heard of the Scoping Plan, although this is California’s third. The state Air Resources Board (ARB) adopted the extensive 2017 version to outline California’s climate policy path to 2030 and detail how it will fulfill its landmark legislative mandate to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Developing a strong roadmap is important not only here but across the country and beyond because of California’s global leadership role as a climate policy incubator and best practice exporter.

For those reasons, adoption of a strong 2017 Scoping Plan was a priority for our Ceres BICEP Network (Business for Innovative Energy and Policy), and I joined colleagues from numerous environmental, public health, business, and environmental justice groups last Thursday to testify before ARB members as they prepared to vote on the Scoping Plan. And, over the past year, I participated in a thorough stakeholder engagement process about what the plan should contain.

So what is it and what does it contain? Put simply, this document “scopes” out California’s “plan” to meet our climate targets. As the state’s GHG reduction goals have become increasingly ambitious, the path forward to success more convoluted, and the role of California as a global climate change mitigation leader more significant, getting the Scoping Plan right is critical.

The 2017 Scoping Plan adopted by ARB intricately lays out a coherent policy path for state regulators to follow. And while not perfect, we believe the 2017 Scoping Plan cements a strong and achievable path to effectively reducing emissions. Its adoption is truly a landmark achievement. The document builds on existing policy, ties together a number of sector specific strategies, and solidifies targets with in sectors. It outlines a path towards a California with more electric vehicles, cleaner electricity to fuel those cars, denser more walkable communities with more efficient buildings, and less polluting agriculture. Of significant importance to BICEP, the Scoping Plan reinforced legislative direction by confirming the roll of the Cap-and-Trade program to cost effectively achieve over one-third of the state’s requisite reductions by 2030. Cementing the role of the Cap-and-Trade program will help keep compliance costs down and maintain important linkages; two Canadian provinces have joined California’s Cap-and-Trade market and Oregon is considering policy that may lead to a similar partnership.

On the other hand, we believe that the Scoping Plan missed an opportunity to make stronger transportation commitments. With close to 40 percent of California’s emissions coming from our cars and trucks, the Scoping Plan should have placed a stronger stake in the ground to ensure we adequately increase the number of electric vehicles on the road and decrease the amount of GHGs emitted by combustion engine cars and the fuels that power them. Many of stakeholders expressed similar sentiments – this is a solid framework but it could benefit from a little tightening here and there.

But overall, this Scoping Plan is a solid win for California and the world.

The history of the Scoping Plan

Since the 2006 passage of the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), the state has produced two previous Scoping Plans to guide its journey in tackling GHG emissions with an aggressiveness necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. To undertake this monumental task, the state has developed and implemented a large suite of “complementary” policies that drive innovation and GHG reductions in specific sectors of California’s economy. Think of the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard that mandates increasing percentages of our electricity be supplied by renewable energy. These complementary policies address GHG emissions in areas across our economy – transportation fuels, agriculture and land use, and our freight system to name a few – and are backstopped by California’s pioneering Cap-and-Trade program. Cap-and-Trade is a market based tool that caps the state’s emissions and ensures we cost effectively meet our reduction goals after our complimentary policies do their work.

Imagine California’s climate program as a skyscraper that needs to be built over the years to meet increasingly stringent goals. Cap-and-Trade works as the building’s structural steel frame critical to supporting the floors and meeting building goals as the building grows; the floors represent the state’s policy workhorses – the complimentary programs that tackle specific sectors. And of course, the Scoping Plan must be the blueprint. Get the blueprint wrong and you end up with a wobbly building, unable to maintain the long road to a sustainable economy. If California’s efforts wobble too much, it jeopardizes our success and global momentum when there is no time to spare. So far, our reduction targets have been modest and we’ve realized success by picking low hanging fruit. But the path to our 2030 reduction goals will be much more challenging. Overlay these stronger reduction goals with the depth and complexity of the world’s sixth largest economy and you begin to understand the importance of this framework.

Thankfully, California has proven it is up to the task. As ARB Chair Mary Nichol’s exclaimed after the vote, “Literally everyone around the world is looking at California.
Considering the gloomy news that we're getting on a daily basis now about how much faster the global warming worst-case scenario is proceeding than anyone had thought early on, I think it behooves us to take a minute and say this is something really important and it's good that we did it."

With President Trump rolling back federal efforts to reduce emissions, California’s role as America’s climate mitigation standard bearer was not lost on Chair Nichols.

Now that the 2017 blueprint is approved, the hard road of implementation lies ahead. And that includes making sure that California’s climate mitigation efforts don’t have unintended impacts on vulnerable communities: California’s leadership must lead for all.

But California is up to the task. Governor Brown - with support from Ceres, WWF International, BSR, and others - is convening the Global Climate Action Summit this September to drive private sector and subnational efforts to achieve reduction commitments abandoned by the Trump administration. And next month, the California state legislature will continue debate on a bill to codify one of the most ambitious renewable energy targets in the world. BICEP and many California business remain committed to ensuring California builds on its current success and continues to show the world that a vibrant economy goes hand in hand with healthy communities and aggressive climate action.

Andy Wunder is Manager, California Policy and Partnerships, Ceres

Image credit: Flickr/Rennett Stowe

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