The State of California

Population: 38.8 million

GDP: US$2.2 trillion

Country: United States

Total GHG emissions (year): 458.68 million tons CO2e

GHG emissions/capita/year: 12.2 million tons CO2e

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 hubs for the entertainment and technology industries, and are regarded as cultural trend-setters.

California has historically been a leader in climate change action. In 2006 the state passed “AB 32,” a legal commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 17% to 1990 levels - 431 million metric tons of CO2e - by 2020. The Governor has established a further goal to reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 emission levels and take significant action to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The state’s main contributors to absolute GHGs are the transportation, industrial, and power sectors, sharing 37%, 22% and 21% of total emissions respectively. Since 2009, the state's gross domestic product has grown by approximately 7% since 2009 - as the amount of carbon pollution has fallen.

California is the only US state with an economy-wide, legally binding emission trading system. The state has taken an economy-wide approach to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, through particular regulations or incentive programs that 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. The trading system initially covered big industrial emitters and electric utilities in 2013, and expanded to include transportation fuels and natural gas in January 2015.

As of May 2014, 23% of California's electricity was produced is from renewable sources, and by 2020, California will generate at least 33% of its electricity from renewable sources. Half of California’s energy consumption will by renewably-sourced by 2030. California’s large clean technology sector is seeing rapid growth thanks to investment and expansion to meet new demand, especially for solar and wind power generation, and Californian solar companies now employ more than 44,000 people. 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.

California is the world’s leading market for electric vehicles and for stationary storage, including a requirement of 1300 MW of storage by 2020. These programs have become part of the dynamic economic engine that is California. Over four decades, the state's appliance and building efficiency policies have saved consumers over $65 billion and created 1.5 million jobs. 

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.

  • Key Targets / Successes

    Climate policy and GHG emissions reduction targets:

    AB 32 requires California to reduce its GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

    In January 2015, Governor Edmund G. Brown set a goal to double the energy efficiency of existing buildings, source half the state’s energy consumption to renewable sources, and reduce petroleum consumption by cars and trucks by 50% by 2030.

    By 2030, half the state’s energy will be renewable sourced and California is working to meet the target of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the state’s road by 2030.

  • Current activities

    Flagship initiative:

    California emissions trading program – also called cap and trade – sets state-wide limits on sources of 85% of greenhouse gas emissions, and helps establish a price for emissions and drive investments toward cleaner energy, infrastructure, and fuels. The emission cap declines 2-3% through 2020. Sending the market a signal that the cap-and-trade program will continue in the long-term is critical to fully realizing the benefits of the program. Extending the cap-and-trade program beyond 2020 will also reduce the costs of the program as California industry and households make long-term capital and investment decisions. Further reduction of the cap beyond 2020 will be commensurate with the emission reductions needed to meet the 2030 goal. 

    Renewable Energy:

    California will build on its 2020 target of a 33%-plus renewable energy portfolio by increasing the percentage of renewables in its energy portfolio to 50% by 2030 and beyond. GHG emission reduction efforts will focus on the power sector, through an increased renewable portfolio, demand reduction and response, increased storage paired with renewables, increased penetration of distributed renewables and storage, and actions at the grid level.

    The renewable energy sector is also a driving force in California’s economy and is predicted to grow 17% in the coming year — the advanced energy sector currently employs over 430,000 workers in more than 40,000 businesses.

    Energy efficiency:

    California’s actions between now and 2030 include the requirement that all new residential construction to be Zero Net Energy by 2020, and all non-residential be so by 2030. The state is also working toward doubling the efficiency of existing buildings and reducing emissions by heating fuels by 2030.

    California is developing additional cost-effective minimum efficiency standards for a variety of lighting, electronics and other common products. The state is also instituting energy benchmarks for all non-residential buildings above 30,000 square feet, and using standardized reporting and analysis tools for state-wide assessment and trending of existing building energy performance patterns, which will be used for evaluation of current and future actions.

    California's annual energy ratepayer investment of $1.2 billion in end-use energy efficiency is likely to increase, and it is also promoting a number of financing tools for home energy retrofits and increasing efforts to ensure a higher percentage of energy retrofits for existing homes and buildings.

    Clean transportation:

    The transportation sector in California accounts for nearly 40% of its greenhouse gas emissions. Strategies for reducing carbon pollution will include transformation of the transportation fleet from older higher pollution vehicles and fuels to newer, near zero and zero emission vehicles and cleaner, less carbon intense fuels. California has set a goal of 1.5 million zero emission vehicles by 2025, adopted a Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, provided incentives for purchasers of ZEVs, established grants to accelerate charging infrastructure for battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fueling infrastructure for fuel cell electric vehicles, and developed programs to support near zero and zero emission vehicles and fuels in a wide variety of fleets, from transit buses to port equipment. California-based utility PG&E has also proposed the construction of over 25,000 plug-in electric vehicle charging stations throughout the north and central state.

    California’s low carbon fuel standard requires a 10% reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 2020. The state is providing more zero emission transit options, changing land use and zoning to reduce vehicle miles traveled, and building a high speed rail network that will be the backbone of an integrated transit system. California has also adopted aggressive carbon pollution reduction requirements for all vehicles through 2026 and beyond. By 2030, the state’s transportation emissions will be significantly reduced, in line with the 2050 reduction goals.

    Adding to the state’s 2030 emissions reductions objectives, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced in January 2015 that the state will work toward reducing petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent by 2030.

    Waste management:

    The Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 (AB 939) was revolutionary legislation that changed the way California manages its trash, its landfills, and most importantly – its resources.  CalRecycle administers and provides oversight for all of California’s waste management and recycling programs. 

    In 2013, California diverted over 65% of its waste from landfills to recycling and reuse.  The beverage container recycling rate and the tire recycling rate exceed 80%.  The recycling industry in California supports more than 140,000 green jobs. 

    Recent mandates set even higher recycling goals.  In 2011, AB 341 set an ambitious goal for California of 75% recycling, composting or source reduction of solid waste by 2020, resulting in approximately a 20 to 30 MMTCO2e reduction compared to business as usual.  In 2014, AB 1826 required commercial businesses to arrange for recycling services for organic waste on or after April 1, 2016 and AB 1564 established mandates to reduce organics used for alternative daily cover in landfills by 2020.

    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. California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) and California Environmental Protection Agency lead the Forest Climate Action Team, which is completing the Forest Carbon Plan by 2016 to increase carbon sequestration and decrease greenhouse gas loss, among other objectives.

    Innovative financing:

    California has multiple funding mechanisms and is evaluating others. Cap and trade auction revenue, bonds, ratepayer funds, Property Assessed Clean Energy funding and on-bill financing are among the mechanisms used.  


    California developed its first Climate Adaptation Strategy in 2009. The 2013 Safeguarding California Plan expands upon strategies outlined in the Climate Adaptation Strategy and augments the Strategy given advances in climate science and risk management options.

    The state developed the California Climate Adaptation Planning Guide to support regional and local communities in addressing unavoidable effects of climate change. CNRA and the California Energy Commission also developed and maintain Cal-Adapt, an online tool that helps local, regional, and state actors identify climate change risks in specific areas throughout the state.

  • More info

    Devolved powers and competencies relevant to climate and energy:

    The Air Resources Board is responsible for implementation of the California Global Warming Solutions 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 (%)





    Electricity Generation (In State and Imported)








    Current power sector mix (%)



    Natural Gas













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