San Francisco — California will need new policies, new technologies or both to meet its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2050, according to an analysis released Monday by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The study gives an encouraging but sobering assessment of California’s fight against global warming.
The state’s many programs to boost renewable power, encourage alternative fuels and improve energy efficiency should lead to a substantial drop in greenhouse gas emissions through 2030, the study found. The cuts should easily beat the emissions target set in California’s landmark global warming law, AB32, which was passed in 2006 and calls for reducing emissions back to 1990 levels by the year 2020.
But the study found that emissions will start to rebound after 2030, largely due to population growth. California’s population, now 38 million, is expected to top 50 million by 2050, pushing up the demand for electricity and fuel.
Author Jeff Greenblatt, a staff scientist at the lab, also examined two alternate scenarios. In each, the aggressive adoption of clean technologies such as renewable jet fuel and zero-emission cars leads to deeper emissions cuts past 2030. But the cuts still won’t be deep enough to reach California’s 2050 goal.
The new study looked at California’s GHG emissions under 3 scenarios. None of them came close to meeting the state’s emission’s goal in 2050.
“We wanted to see where the policies that were already in hand would take us,” Greenblatt said. “They actually get us a lot further in 2030 than we expected. That’s the good news in this study — we’re on track to making some very significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
The study, he said, shows the need for California to plan ways to keep cutting emissions decades in the future. He also wants to see the state enshrine its long-term emission goals in law. The 80 percent reduction state officials want by 2050 comes from an executive order issued by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 and can be easily overturned.
The California Air Resources Board, which runs many of the state’s global warming programs, funded the study. The board’s latest scoping plan to implement AB32 looks at programs that will extend beyond 2020, said spokesman Dave Clegern. He noted, however, the inherent difficulty of crafting policies that stretch decades into the future.
“Our primary goal right now is 2020, but we need to look past that,” Clegern said.
California has the country’s most ambitious policies to fight climate change. The state last year started a cap-and-trade system in which companies buy and sell the right to emit greenhouse gases. California utilities, meanwhile, must get one third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Other policies and programs address emissions from buildings and fuel.
Together, the state’s many global warming efforts should be able to reduce annual emissions to 406 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent by 2020, and 396 million metric tons by 2030. Under AB32, emissions can be no higher than 427 million metric tons by 2020.
After 2030, emissions will likely rise again, reaching 444 million metric tons in 2050, according to the study. In the alternate scenarios, emissions in 2050 go as low as 188 million metric tons per year. But that’s still well above the state’s goal of 85 million metric tons.
California has a long way to go. The state’s emissions rose 2 percent last year to 438 million metric tons, according to data released Monday by the Air Resources Board. The reasons? Closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant forced the state to rely more on power plants burning natural gas. So did the dry winter, which reduced the output from California’s hydroelectric dams.