TODAY’S STUDY: California’s Climate Crisis Fight Right Now
2019 California Green Innovation Index
October 8, 2019 (Beacon Economics for Next 10)
California’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions
• Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 1.15 percent, or 4.94 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) between 2016 and 2017—to a total of 424.1 MMTCO2e in 2017.
• Among the key sectors of the California economy, only the electricity generation sector has seen continuous and significant improvements in terms of reducing GHG emissions. The Industrial (-4.4%), Residential (-4.2%) and Transportation (-4.9%) sectors have seen only marginal decreases compared to 2000, while emissions from Commercial increased 64.7 percent from 2000—driven largely by an increase in GHGs from high global warming potential gases. Looking deeper, on-road passenger vehicles accounted for 28 percent of the state’s total GHG emissions, up 0.5 percent from 2016, while the Transportation sector as a whole represented 41.1 percent of the state’s total emissions.
• If the current trajectory continues, the state will take significantly more time to reach its 2030 and 2050 goals than it did to reach the 2020 goal. Assuming the same rate of reduction from 2016 to 2017, California will reach its 2030 and 2050 goals in 2061 and 2157, respectively— representing a 31-year and a 107-year delay. Even using the average rate of decline from the three most recent years (-1.57%), the respective goals would be met in 2050 and 2121.
• California’s fossil fuel energy-related carbon dioxide emissions per capita were 9.2 MMTCO2e per person in 2016—the second-lowest among the 50 states, behind New York—and have remained relatively constant since 2011. The U.S. average in 2016 was 16 MMTCO2e per person.
• From 2016 to 2017, California’s inflationadjusted GDP per capita grew 3.1 percent while economy-wide per capita GHG emissions decreased 1.8 percent. Compared to 1990, California’s per capita GDP grew 41.3 percent while reducing per capita GHG emissions by 25.4 percent.
• California's carbon intensity continues to improve. From 2012 to 2017, its carbon intensity relative to economic output declined at a rate of 4.53 percent per year—faster than the 10-year average of 3.18 percent from 2007 to 2017.
• In 2016, California’s carbon intensity relative to GDP was 54.3 percent lower than that of the rest of the U.S. Compared to the other populous states, California’s carbon intensity was 44.2 percent lower than Florida’s, 46.1 percent lower than Illinois’, 54.1 percent lower than Pennsylvania’s, 58.2 percent lower than Ohio’s, and 66.2 percent lower than Texas’ in 2016.
• California’s carbon intensity relative to energy supply declined only 1.6 percent from 2000 to 2016, the smallest decrease among the most populous states. By comparison, energy supply carbon intensity declined 10.4 percent in the rest of U.S. over the same period.
California’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions
After meeting the AB 32 goal in 2016, total included greenhouse gas emissions2 fell 4.94 MMTCO2e to 424.1 MMTCO2e (-1.15%) in 2017, remaining below the 1990 level of 431 MMTCO2e.
Once again, electricity generation (both in-state and imports) provided the lion’s share of emissions decreases between 2016 and 2017, with each falling 8.9 percent. Because other sectors are not seeing significant declines and—in some cases—are contributing increased emissions, California would not be on track to meet its Senate Bill 32 (SB 32) goal of reducing total emissions to 259 MMTCO2e in 2030 if these trends continue.
1 The transportation sector remains the largest-emitting sector in California by far at 41.1 percent of the total in 2017, up from 40.4 percent in 2016. On-road passenger vehicles alone accounted for 28 percent of the state’s total emissions, up 0.5 percent from 2016. Comparatively, emissions from the entire power sector make up less than 15 percent of the state’s total emissions.
2 The electric power sector’s share fell from 16 percent in 2016 to 14.8 percent, about equal the combined shares of Agriculture & Forestry (7.6%) and Residential (7.2%). As the state continues to decarbonize its grid, the electric power sector’s share of total emissions is on track to become even smaller.
1 By top-level economic sector, only the electricity generation sectors have seen continuous and significant improvements in terms of reducing GHG emissions. GHG emissions from electricity imports and from in-state generation are down 47.9 percent and 35.0 percent, respectively, relative to 2000.
2 Industrial (-4.4%), Residential (-4.2%) and Transportation (-4.9%) have seen only marginal decreases compared to 2000; in fact, the Transportation sector has been trending in the wrong direction since 2013. Unfortunately, GHG emissions in the Commercial sector keep increasing (+64.7% relative to 2000), due primarily to an increase in high global warming potential gases stemming from the use of substitutes for ozone depleting substances (ODS substitutes). These substitutes are primarily used for refrigerants and air conditioning.
3 Clean electricity will be foundational to a decarbonized economy. However, relying solely on the electric power sector to score overall GHG emission reductions is not sustainable in the long-term. So far, the electric power sectors have seen dramatic reductions because the state has a great degree of control over its power mix, while GHG emissions from all other sectors are fundamentally functions of end-users’ consumption behaviors. Addressing emissions from some of these harder-to-reach sectors will be critical to meeting the state’s future climate goals.
1 Based on the current pace of year-over-year percentage reductions, the state will need to work increasingly harder in order to meet the SB 32 goal by 2030. Previously, the state needed to reduce its GHG emissions by an average of 3.92 percent annually between 2016 to 2030 in order to attain the goal. However, since the state only achieved a 1.15 percent reduction between 2016 and 2017, the state will now need to reduce its GHG emissions by an average of 4.51 percent annually from 2017 to 2030 in order to attain the goal—a three-fold increase.
2 At the current trajectory, the state will take significantly more time to reach its SB 32 and 2050 goals than it did to reach the 2020 goal. Assuming the same rate of reduction from 2016 to 2017, California would reach its SB 32 and 2050 goals in 2061 and 2157, respectively—representing a 31-year and a 107-year delay. Using the average rate of decline from the three most recent years (-1.57%), the respective goals would be met in 2050 and 2121 instead.
California continues to demonstrate that economic growth need not to be compromised in order to reduce GHG emissions. From 2016 to 2017, the state’s inflationadjusted GDP per capita grew 3.1 percent while per capita GHG emissions decreased 1.8 percent. Compared to 1990, California’s per capita GDP grew 41.3 percent while per capita GHG emissions decreased by 25.4 percent.
1 The carbon intensity of the California economy continues to decline, with emissions of 0.154 MTCO2e per $1,000 of GDP (inflation-adjusted to 2017 dollars) generated in 2017, a 4.7 percent improvement compared to 2016 and a 27.6 percent improvement compared to ten years prior. California’s carbon intensity has declined consistently since 2007— the most recent year when carbon intensity was higher than during the previous year.
2 From 1990 to 2017, California's carbon intensity declined at a rate of 2.34 percent per year. From 2007 to 2017, its carbon intensity declined at a rate of 3.18 percent per year, and from 2012 to 2017, its carbon intensity declined at a rate of 4.53 percent per year. This means that the rate of decline is increasing and has gotten faster within the last five years.
In 2016 (the latest year for which nationally comparable data are available), $1,000 of economic activity3 in California resulted in 0.139 MTCO2e produced. In comparison, the same $1,000 of economic activity in the U.S. (excluding California) resulted in 0.304 MTCO2e produced in 2016—more than double that of California. In addition to performing well in terms of carbon intensity, California also has one of the lowest energyrelated GHG emissions per capita levels at 9.2 MTCO2e per person in 2016. The Golden State maintained its position in 2016 as the state with the second-lowest energy-related carbon dioxide emissions per capita, behind only New York.
1 In 2016, California’s carbon intensity was 54.3 percent lower than that of the rest of the U.S. Compared to years past, the difference between California’s carbon intensity and that of the rest of the U.S. has gradually widened. Relative to the rest of the U.S., California’s carbon intensity was 51.7 percent lower in 1990, 53.2 percent lower in 1996, 53.9 percent lower in 2006, and 54.0 percent lower in 2015.
2 California maintained its high rank as the fourthmost carbon-efficient compared to other U.S. states in 2016. Compared to 2015, the state’s carbon intensity decreased 2.8 percent, surpassing the nationwide average decline of 2.3 percent. However, New York (-2.9%), Connecticut (-5.8%), and Massachusetts (-3.4%)—the three states with lower carbon intensities than California—all recorded greater year-over-year decreases in carbon intensity between 2015 to 2016.
Relative to GDP, California’s economy-wide carbon intensity has seen consistent declines over the years. However, this is not true relative to energy supply, specifically. Relative to 2000, California’s carbon intensity in energy supply (MTCO2e relative to British thermal unit) declined only 1.6 percent in 2016—the smallest among the most populous states. By comparison, carbon intensity of energy supply declined 10.4 percent in the rest of U.S. Even New York, which always has had lower energy supply carbon intensity than California, managed to see a 13.8 percent decline over the same period.
Generally, the states with lower energy intensity also tend to be more densely populated. However, California is an exception to this rule. Over time, as California has moved away from natural gas and toward more renewables, the state’s remaining fossil fuel consumption mix (which includes coal and natural gas predominantly in power plants, and petroleum predominantly in the transportation sector) shifted slightly toward more petroleum and less natural gas. Indeed, compared to 2009, when petroleum accounted for 65.0 percent of emissions, in 2016 petroleum use (which was primarily from vehicles) accounted for 66.2 percent of the emissions. Meanwhile, the share of emissions from natural gas declined from 33.7 percent to 33.0 percent over the same time period. Outside of California, the consumption mix of other states has also become cleaner, with either a shift from coal to petroleum and natural gas (e.g., Illinois and the U.S.), or from coal and petroleum to natural gas (e.g., New York). As a result of these shifting energy source trends, while energy supply carbon intensity is decreasing in the rest of the U.S., it has remained at a relatively stagnant level in California since 2000.
That petroleum is the main source of emissions from fuel underscores California’s need to reduce emissions from transportation. As zero-emission vehicles become more commonplace and the transportation sector becomes increasingly electrified, the state should move away from fossil fuels as a significant source of emissions…