California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state's Democratic legislative leadership together have crafted the most significant environmental legislation in the United States since the passage of the landmark 1970 Clean Air Act: California Assembly Bill 32, known as AB 32. The bill is expected to pass the legislature tonight.
AB 32 is so critical to halting and reversing global climate change, as California is the 12th highest producer of greenhouse gases in the world. It also sets a precedent for other states to follow, even though the US has not as a nation signed on to the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas reduction goals.
The state will be mandating a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, which will require a sea change in manufacturing, fossil fuel and industry carbon emissions, the main cause of global warming. Monitoring, reporting and verification for the provision begins January 1, 2008. By that same date the state will have had to conduct a greenhouse gas emissions inventory, something businesses and some California cities (LA, San Diego, San Francisco) have already performed. AB 32 comes on top of the nation's strictest carbon reduction mandates that have been already been imposed on autos, light duty trucks and utilities.
California has good reason to take the national lead in combating global climate change. Many of the Golden State's natural resources such as mountain snowpack, which provide most of the water for its cities and nation-leading agricultural industry, along with fisheries, timber and coastline could be directly threatened by everything from higher temperatures to rising tidelines.
With increased global warming, state hydroelectric power generation would also decline, as would selected coastal real estate values, fruit, vegetable, timber, dairy and meat output, and recreational opportunities. Forest fires and vectors, such as West Nile Virus, would increase substantially. In some climate change scenarios, such changes would devastate the state's economy, which is currently the 5th largest in the world behind the US, Japan, Germany and Britain, according to the World Bank.
All of these projections are summarized in the July 2006 report, "Our Changing Climate," which was commissioned by the California Energy Commission and the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Business leaders in the fossil fuels industry and other potentially impacted industries have pushed back against the new legislation, claiming it wasn't thought out well enough and could hurt short-term economic growth.
Instead the move is likely to produce profound long-term growth in everything from renewable energy, to advanced transportation and associated services, ranging from consulting, to engineering and smart growth community economic development. Areas of positive economic impact will range from innovative new carbon control technologies to energy generation and material sciences.
According to a 2004 study by UC Berkeley Professor Daniel Kammen, for every dollar invested in the fossil fuels sector, three to five times more jobs are created for every dollar invested in low-carbon industries (wind, solar, clean vehicles, etc.).
California is also likely to develop a carbon trading market, similar to that of the European Union's, where participants trade carbon offsets.
Which state will be the first to follow in California's footsteps? And how many other states will follow in a "bottom-up" effort that first began in 2005 with the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement and its lead mayor's actions--Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels?