California is failing to reduce GHG emissions within state boundaries

No co-benefits in California’s GHG Reduction Plan

If California leads the world in greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, then we are in big trouble.

California, the self-proclaimed climate leader, just released its greenhouse gas inventory for 2015 on the Air Resources Board webpage. This inventory is required annually by California law.

The inventory shows our progress meeting the 2020 goal of lowering current GHG emissions to 1990 levels. As of 2015, California is at 440 million tons of annual CO2 equivalent GHG levels of emissions. The target for 2020 is 431 million tons. There is also a new target mandated for 2030 of 40% below 1990 levels or approximately 259 million tons of annual emissions.

Currently, emissions need to decrease about 2 million tons per year for the next 5 years and we will reach the 2020 target. At that time California must get serious about the climate and reductions must be at least 17 million tons per year.

Over the past five years, since 2010, emission reductions in California total less than 6 million tons. This is nothing compared to the future goal of 17 tons per year. This early period is when reductions are supposed to be the easiest as many of them can come from efficiency measures alone. It is also the time when emission reductions have the biggest impact on future climate change.

CA GHG inventory 2010.2015

In 2015, California’s GHG emissions dropped a paltry 1.5 million tons. How and where did those reductions take place? It turns out none of those reductions were within the boundaries of California. Neither did any of the 6 million tons over the past five years take place near any environmentally challenged community in California which feel the brunt of the impact from co-pollutants such as NOx, fine particulates, and toxic emissions. California imports about 25% of its electricity every year. Recently, the state electrical providers have been importing increasing amounts of renewable energy. That renewable energy is reducing the total GHG emissions from the electricity sector of the inventory and making up for actual increases of GHG emissions within the state. Over the past 5 years, GHG emissions from imported electricity have dropped nearly 10 million tons while the amount of electricity imported has increased nearly 15% while remaining about 25% of the total electrical mix.

CA ghg from imported electricity

What this means is California electricity providers are meeting the mandated renewable portfolio standard plus their Cap and Trade obligations by importing an increasing amount of renewable energy from out of state. About 2/3 of this imported electricity comes from Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. Now, California requires 33% renewable energy by 2020 but Arizona only requires 15% renewable energy by 2025. That makes it easy and lucrative for Arizona companies to export renewable energy at high rates to satisfy California regulations and build these facilities under weaker environmental regulations. Nevada and New Mexico also have far weaker renewable energy standards than California. Many people have questioned whether it is logical to import electricity from a state where the power mix is 15% renewable and where lots of coal is being burned, but the imported electricity is classified as 100% renewable.

This also means that California has not reduced GHG emissions within the borders of the state. If the inventory shows a drop of GHG emissions of 6 million tons since 2010 and imported electricity has shown a decrease of 10 million tons, then California clearly has increased emissions within the state’s borders by around 4 million tons since 2010.

Another interesting thing is taking place within California in terms of GHG reductions. Residential heating by natural gas is a major GHG sector making up around 5% of total emissions in the 2015 inventory. This sector has reduced its emissions around 6 million tons since 2010. Ironically, these reductions correspond almost perfectly (r^2 = .97) to the average temperature of California’s coolest months (Oct-Mar). Since 2010 and 2011, which experienced the six coolest months at only slightly warmer than average, California saw those same months in 2014 and 2015 warm up to more than 3 degrees above average and home heating demand dropped significantly because of this warming. Since 2010 there has been a drop of nearly 6 million tons of GHG emissions in California due to less residential heating. In this case global warming is reducing GHG emissions in California far more rapidly than the Cap and Trade program.

GHG and climate

CA ghg residential heating vs mean temp

This also means there has been an increase elsewhere in the state of 6 million tons of GHG emissions. In other words, take out imported electricity reductions and residential heating reductions, and GHG emissions in California from regulated entities have risen by at least 10 million tons since 2010.

Where have these increases taken place? The CARB Integrated Emissions Visualization Tool shows that the bulk of the 10 million ton increase can be traced to environmental justice communities in three locations: Kern, San Bernadino, and Los Angeles Counties.

The following charts show clearly the increases in each of these counties where air pollution is also a major problem.

kern county ghg 2011.2014San Bernadino ghg 2011.2015los angeles ghg 2011.2014


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