California’s progress towards its 2020 climate target

Oct 2, 2017

On October 2, 2017, the Near Zero team—Michael Mastrandrea, Mason Inman, and Danny Cullenward—presented at Stanford’s Energy Seminar, showing results from a retrospective study in-progress. The full video of the talk is below.

As California prepares its strategy to reach a globally ambitious climate target for 2030, on the road to deep decarbonization by mid-century, retrospective analysis of past planning exercises can shed light on the successes and challenges encountered so far during implementation.

The state appears to be on track to reach its 2020 emissions target—an outcome many considered wildly ambitious when it was first proposed more than a decade ago. While this signals real progress in reducing emissions, the state’s policies are not solely responsible for the reductions observed to date.

Other factors have played an important role, most notably the largest recession in a generation following the global financial crisis, which contributed to lowering emissions. More recently, a major drought limited the availability of low-carbon hydropower resources and the unexpected closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) removed one of the largest zero-carbon energy resources from the state’s energy mix. Each of these events is an example of important developments that are difficult to predict in advance, but nevertheless have shaped the state’s actual emissions trajectory, demonstrating the deep uncertainty inherent to long-term forecasting.

We assess the experience of California’s climate policies to date for the economy as a whole and in two key sectors, electricity and transportation.  The decomposition analyses we present offer insights into what has and has not worked in the past, and also represent tools that can help track progress going forward and adaptively manage policy strategies when issues arise.

presented at Stanford’s Energy Seminar

Michael Mastrandrea *†, Mason Inman *, and Danny Cullenward *†

* Near Zero

† Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Global Ecology