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The State of California

The State of California
38 million
$2 trillion
United States
The State of California


GHG emissions (year): 450 million tons CO2e. For more info on economic and political context, see below.

California is the third largest and most populated state in the USA. Its diverse geography ranges from forested mountains in the Pacific Northwest to the arid Mojave Desert in the southeast, and thanks to the San Andreas Fault line around 37,000 earthquakes are recorded annually. The major coastal cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco are centers for the entertainment and technology industries, and are regarded as cultural trend-setters.

California has historically been at the forefront of climate legislation. In 2006 the state passed “AB 32”, a legal commitment to reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a reduction of 28% from business-as-usual levels. The Governor has established a further goal to reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 emission levels by 2050. The state’s main contributors to absolute GHGs are the transportation, power and industrial sectors, sharing 40%, 27% and 23% respectively.

The state has taken an economy-wide approach to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Particular regulations or incentive programs pertain to particular sectors, such as the electricity or transportation sectors, but the cap-and-trade program will cover 85% of the state’s emissions, beginning with big industrial emitters and electric utilities in 2013, and expanding to include transportation fuels and natural gas in 2015.

California’s large clean technology sector is seeing rapid growth thanks to investment and expansion to meet new demand. The state is just beginning to realize its potential for solar and wind power generation.

Private companies including Google and BT have set up renewable energy projects in the state to power their operations, and commercial energy generators are rapidly expanding their renewable portfolios.

Boasting the lowest per capita carbon emissions and electricity consumption in the US, the state has nevertheless identified a number of development areas for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and has formed strategies for meeting its targets and measuring its progress.

Current Activities

Energy efficiency

California has had a far-reaching set of efficiency standards in place since 1978, which have saved more than US$56 billion and are estimated to save an additional US$23 billion by 2013.

In July 2008, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) established efficiency targets to save over 4,500 megawatts - the output of nine large power plants - by 2020.

In September 2008, the CPUC adopted a Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan. Under this plan, all new construction must draw zero net energy by 2030. Education and financial incentives will improve efficiency across the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry and in low income households.

Renewable energy

The Million Solar Roofs Initiative and the California Solar Initiative are expected to reduce annual carbon emissions by approximately 3 million tons by 2020.

The CPUC and Energy Commission oversee the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires energy retailers to supply a proportion of energy from renewable sources. The current target requires all such companies to supply 33% renewable energy by 2020 (Executive Order S 14 08).

Clean transport

California’s emissions standards, in effect since 2009, are the most stringent in the US. Emissions from new passenger vehicles in the state must be reduced by about 22% by 2012 and about 30% by 2016.

The state passed the world’s first Low Carbon Fuel Standard, designed and adopted by the Air Resources Board (ARB). It also developed the California Hydrogen Highway Network (CaH2Net) vision for a state hydrogen fuelling infrastructure.

A Goods Movement Action Plan outlined strategies to reduce emissions from ports and transport of goods by 85% below 2000 levels by 2020. Since 2008, regulations also limit idling of new and in-use diesel trucks.

Sustainable land use

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) works to improve forest management practices to reduce the threat of wildfires, drought and disease. The CDF manages a program to plant urban forests, to provide shade and cooling in cities while capturing carbon.

The Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is developing strategies to reduce methane from livestock, and sequester carbon stored in crops through more responsible tilling of the land. It is also working with farmers to create a viable market for agricultural waste by generating energy and low carbon fuels.

Waste management

Thanks to the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) over 58% of waste was diverted from landfill to recycling and reuse in 2009, up from 10% in 1990. CIWMB has been superseded by CalRecycle, which has ambitious waste reduction targets and has now reached a recycling rate of 82% for ten materials.

International collaboration

California participates in The Western Climate Initiative and The Climate Registry.

Smart cities

California passed the country’s first Smart Growth legislation in 2008 intended to curb sprawl and reduce vehicle miles travelled. Local initiatives are underway, for example in Long Beach and San Diego. 

A sustainable communities strategy is also currently under development. 

More info

Devolved powers and competencies relevant to climate and energy

The Air Resources Board is responsible for implementation of the California Global Warming Sollutions Act. This includes cap-and-trade, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Advanced Clean Cars and the Sustainable Communities program, among others.

The California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission have various responsibilities and authority related to energy efficiency and renewable energy, among other climate-related areas.

Many local air quality and planning jurisdictions are taking leadership roles in climate-related policies, as are the state’s municipally-owned utilities (which account for about a quarter of the electricity market in the state).

GHG breakdown by sector (%) in 2010:

Power 27%
Transport 40%
Buildings 10%
Industry 23%
Agriculture/forestry n/a
Waste n/a

Current power sector mix (%)

Coal 7.7%
Natural gas 41.9%
Nuclear 13.9%
Renewables 13.7%

Large hydro


Imported coal, natural gas and Pacific NW hydropower all of which have been re-sold multiple times without specific source documentation


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