Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

California Sets Tighter Greenhouse Gas Emission Goals

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, May 12, 2015 global attention to climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has grown over the past two decades, California has been one of the leading jurisdictions. This began with statewide planning efforts in the 1990s, designed to identify and quantify GHG emissions. After the turn of the millennium it expanded to significant control requirements imposed on targeted source categories—notably a 2002 law (AB 1493) requiring the world’s first GHG emission limits on motor vehicles.

In 2006 another state law—AB 32—established a statewide goal to reduce total GHG emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, by expanding direct regulations of emission sources, reducing carbon in motor fuels, and establishing a statewide cap-and-trade program to provide market-like requirements for additional reductions. The 1990-in-2020 emissions goals reflect reductions of roughly 15 % between the peak years of 2003-2008 and the 2020 target, which will average to over 1.2 % per year.

California’s governors Schwarzenegger and Brown have also issued Executive Orders (EOs) directing state agencies to act to achieve further reductions after 2020. Both governors have prescribed a target of 80 percent below 1990/2020 levels by 2050 (which would average over 2.5 % per year for three decades—twice as fast as the reductions presently underway. Last week, Governor Brown issued a new EO setting an interim goal of 40% reductions by 2030. This would require reductions to average 4 % per year during the 2020s, 3 times the present rate and nearly twice the rate for the entire 2020-2050 period. In doing so, the Governor has explicitly chosen to match the European Union’s 2030 goals (but note that the EU goal for 2020 is already 20% below 1990 levels).

The EO makes use of a wide variety of state regulatory and planning mechanisms, but does not attempt to explain how use of these mechanisms will accomplish the substantial expansion of GHG controls in the state.

What Directives Does The Executive Order Provide?

In addition to broad policy pronouncements, the EO provides directions to state agencies to pursue regulatory and other initiatives so that California can meet the new goal. Most of these initiatives continue or expand existing state-level initiatives established by AB 32 or other laws and policies. They consist of:

  • The EO establishes the goal to reduce GHG emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

  • State agencies with jurisdiction over GHG emission sources are to implement measures, pursuant to their statutory authority, to achieve the state emission reduction goals.

  • ARB is to update its Climate Change Scoping Plan, developed to provide the framework for implementation of AB 32, to express the 2030 target in million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

  • The California Natural Resources Agency is to update the state Climate Adaptation Strategy, “Safeguarding California”, at least every 3 years and ensure that its full implementation. The plan will do all of the following:

    • Identify vulnerabilities to climate change by sector and regions (including, at least: water, energy, transportation, public health, agriculture, emergency services, forestry, biodiversity and habitat, and ocean and coastal resources). 

    • Outline primary risks to residents, property, communities and natural systems from these vulnerabilities, and identify priority actions needed to reduce these risks. 

    • Identify a lead agency or group of agencies to lead adaptation efforts in each sector.

  • Each sector lead agency will:

    • Prepare an implementation plan by September 2015 to outline actions identified in Safeguarding California. 

    • Report to the Natural Resources Agency by June 2016 on actions taken.

  • State agencies' planning and investment will be guided by the following principles 

    • Give priority to actions that both build climate preparedness and reduce GHG emissions.

    • Where possible, apply flexible and adaptive approaches to prepare for uncertain climate impacts.

    • Take actions to protect the state's most vulnerable populations.

    • Give priority to natural infrastructure solutions.

  • Consider current and future climate change impacts in all infrastructure projects, as reflected in the state's Five-Year Infrastructure Plan (prepared and administered by the state Department of Finance).

  • The Governor's Office of Planning and Research will establish a technical, advisory group to help state agencies incorporate climate change impacts into planning and investment decisions. 

  • The state will continue research to understand climate change impacts and how best to prepare and adapt to them.

Self-Assessment Checklist

Has the organization identified its GHG emissions?

If so, are they regulated:

    • Under existing national requirements?

    • Under requirements imposed by the state(s) or province(s) in which activities produce emissions?

    • Under California requirements (i.e., even if the organization’s activities are outside California)?

Are any unregulated emissions in categories, by GHG and/or activity, that would presently be regulated if emission levels were higher (and might therefore become regulated if regulatory thresholds are reduced)?

Where Can I Go For More Information?

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

In addition Jon Elliott has just released an eBook discussing how a business or facility can assess and manage their GHG emissions. Download your complimentary copy here.

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About the Author Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 12 existing products, including Environmental Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and The Complete Guide to Environmental Law.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

photo credit: USA - California - Los Angeles - view from Griffith Observatory via photopin (license)

Tags: Health & Safety, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, Greenhouse Gas, ghg, Hazcom