California’s Climate Mirage: How Newsom’s Blueprint Falls Short

Governor Newsom talks about California’s climate leadership on the national stage, but the details of California’s proposed climate change plan tell a different story.

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Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Jessica Gable

While struggling through a historic drought, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is drafting its plan for addressing climate change. The Board took comments on the plan in June and thousands of Californians submitted comments calling for aggressive action. But the draft plan dodges any real action on climate change. Instead, it opts for a “carbon neutrality” deadline of 2045 while relying on industry schemes like carbon capture to get there.

Governor Gavin Newsom likes to characterize California’s climate leadership as bold and aggressive, but this plan is neither. To really lead, Newsom must tell CARB to go back to the drawing board. The governor appoints most of the board’s members. That means he can show leadership by demanding real solutions and a quick timeline in line with science. 

California must move off fossil fuels by 2035; 2045 falls far short

Climate scientists are clear that we need to immediately stop expanding fossil fuel production and infrastructure. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report warns that with any delay, we risk missing “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” 

In response to the CARB plan, we’ve partnered with the Indigenous Environmental Network and Center for Biological Diversity to organize a letter to Newsom and CARB calling for bolder action. Signed by more than 150 organizations, the letter calls for California to reach near zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. It also calls for a completely green electric grid by 2030. Finally, it demands faster timelines in transportation and buildings and a rejection of industry schemes like carbon capture.

Climate Leadership Means Rapid Action on Transportation and Infrastructure

Any serious plan to address the climate crisis needs to aggressively address transportation and infrastructure. This means big investments in public transportation and requirements for all new car sales to be electric by 2030. At the same time, we need goals for trucks and faster electrification of trains and ports. These will make sure that we reach 100% electric by 2035. 

A meaningful climate plan must also take on gas infrastructure in buildings. Many California cities have already passed bans on gas in new buildings. Now, we need state mandates to immediately end the use of fossil fuels in new construction and require electric appliances for all new buildings by 2025. These requirements must come with support for low- and moderate-income households in the transition. 

Climate Leadership Means Rejecting Industry Scams like Carbon Capture

Most glaringly, the proposed plans rely on industry schemes like carbon capture. Yet carbon capture is expensive and unproven. It’s a boondoggle that will only serve to lock in fossil fuel use for years to come. Other scams like offsets, factory farm gas and hydrogen power are packaged in ways that sound good. But they won’t do a thing to help the climate or communities. 

“Governor Newsom has an opportunity to change [California’s] destructive legacy by revising the 2022 draft Scoping Plan to stop the release of fossil fuel emissions at the source and end carbon neutrality mechanisms that prop up industry scams like carbon capture techno-fixes, carbon trading and offsets, hydrogen and bioenergy. These are not real solutions that will halt the devastation of fires and extreme water shortage. The time is now for the California Air Resources Board to put our communities first; before the polluting corporations.”

Thomas Joseph, Hoopa Valley Tribal member, organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, and co-author of our coalition letter

Current plans fall far short of what we need to address the climate crisis, but Governor Newsom still has time to act. He should urge CARB to return to the drawing board and come back with a plan that rises to the challenge. He could make a real and rapid transition off fossil fuels the centerpiece of his administration’s agenda. And, he could use the power of his office and bully pulpit to move a bold agenda. This would show real climate leadership — leadership that could move other states, the country, and other nations. 

In the coming months, we’ll see whether Newsom and CARB are serious about the climate crisis, or if all their climate talk is just a mirage in the drought. 

Spread the word: California deserves better climate action!