Ken Green’s post on California’s global-warming policy commented on the sad state of California’s economy under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32, or AB 32) . This raises the question: What is California climatically achieving for its sacrifice?
The answer? Even an immediate and complete cessation of all greenhouse gas emissions from California now and forever would result in no meaningful impact on the future course of climate change.
Background: In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, economics writer Steven Moore has an article “California’s ‘Green Jobs’ Experiment Isn’t Going Well.” In it, he describes the rather sad state of California’s current jobs situation in light of the optimism that was expressed a few years ago with the signing of nation’s first “anti-global warming bill”:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was all smiles in 2006 when he signed into law the toughest anti-global-warming regulations of any state. Mr. Schwarzenegger and his green supporters boasted that the regulations would steer California into a prosperous era of green jobs, renewable energy, and technological leadership. Instead, since 2007—in anticipation of the new mandates—California has led the nation in job losses.
Under AB 32, the state is obligated to reduce its annual greenhouse house gas emissions total such that the its total emissions in the year 2020 are the same as what the total emissions were in the year 1990, and further, that in the year 2050, the total greenhouse gas emissions from California will be 80% below what they were in 1990.
The numbers look something like this (all numbers are in million metric tons CO2 [mmtCO2]):
|Year||CA equivalent CO2 Emissions|
AB 32 Targets
|Year||CO2||Emissions Savings from 2008 Level||Savings/Year|
Now, let’s compare the total emissions savings (under AB 32) to the annual growth in CO2 emissions from countries besides the United States.
According to data from the Energy Information Administration, averaged over the last 5 years (2002–2006), the growth rate in global CO2 emissions (not including the United States) has been about 960 mmtCO2 per year. That means, if AB 32’s entire goal of limiting California’s CO2 emissions to a level that is 80% below 1990 levels, or to a value of 85 mmtCO2/year, could be met tomorrow (instead of waiting until 2050)—the entire emissions savings under this plan (410 mmtCO2) would be completely replaced by new emissions from the rest of the world in less than 6 months. If, instead of reaching the desired goal tomorrow, it was met by reducing California’s annual CO2 emissions by 9.8 mmtCO2/year for the next 42 years (quite a feat considering that for the past five years California has averaged a year-over-year increase of about 3.8 mmtCO2), each year’s annual savings would be replaced by global emissions growth within about the first 4 days of each year (assuming a global rate of growth similar to the past 5 years). That’s a lot of struggle to be swept away in the first 4 days of each year by emissions growth in the rest of the world (primarily China and India, which make up about 2/3rds of the current annual emissions growth).
If we take the California’s AB 32 regulations one step further, and assume that instead of an 80% reduction below 1990 emissions levels, the state now and forever halts all greenhouse gas emissions, the annual saving would be 495 mmtCO2, or about 1.5% of the total annual global emissions. At the current growth rate, all of the emissions saving generated by a complete cessation of all emissions from California would be subsumed by foreign emissions growth in just one half of one year’s time.
The result of all of this is a whole lot of nothing—at least as far as the climate goes. The climate outcome of an immediate 100% reduction of California’s emissions would be equivalent to setting back the total rise in global temperature and global sea levels by about 6 months. Or in other words, the global average temperature in the year 2050 would be less than two-hundredths of a ºF lower than it otherwise would have been in the year 2050. The global sea level would be about a tenth of an inch lower than where it otherwise would be.
Plans such as AB 32, which merely mandate a reduction, rather than a complete cessation of greenhouse gas emissions from California will necessarily achieve even less—that is, if what you are really worried about is the climate.
And if you are worried about the economy, the situation apparently isn’t faring much better.
For additional analyses of the climate impacts of greenhouse gas emission reduction plans being considered in other states across the country, check out the wealth of material available from the Science and Public Policy Institute and their State Climate Profile series.