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New emissions target puts California on forefront of climate fight

California Governor Jerry Brown. Creative Commons: Steve Rhodes, 2009

California Governor Jerry Brown. Creative Commons: Steve Rhodes, 2009

California Governor Jerry Brown has charted course toward a clean energy future with an executive order issued on Wednesday requiring his state to cut emissions by 40% over 1990 levels by 2030.

Brown’s order cements California’s status as a leader on climate change by instituting the most aggressive climate change target in North America. Brown justified the order based on “the ever-growing threat” posed to his state by global warming.

“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached—for this generation and generations to come,” Brown said.

The new target puts California in line with commitments of leading international governments, including the European Union. By way of comparison, the EU bloc—widely considered the world’s climate leader—set the same 2030 target just last October.

California’s goal is more ambitious than the Obama administration’s nationwide plan for curbing carbon pollution, which which aims to cut emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The executive order ramps up California’s already ambitious efforts to combat climate change. In Brown’s latest inaugural address in January, he unveiled three ambitious energy goals pledging that California would generate half of its electricity from renewable sources, cut petroleum use in cars and trucks by half, and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings within 15 years.

Achieving these goals will be an integral part of meeting the newly announced emissions target.

Following Brown’s announcement, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres lauded the target and its implications for the end-of-year Paris climate talks.

“California and Governor Brown have clearly understood, internalised and articulated the science of climate change and today have aligned the state to the growing global understanding of the step changes and strategies needed over the coming years and decades,” Figueres said. “California’s announcement is a realisation and a determination that will gladly resonate with other inspiring actions within the United States and around the globe. It is yet another reason for optimism in advance of the UN climate conference in Paris in December.”

Brown’s announcement comes as California enters its fourth year of a historic drought that is disrupting agriculture, causing water shortages, and sending shockwaves through the entire United States in the form of increased food prices.

Researchers have directly linked climate change to higher temperatures, a major factor in drought. In 2014, California experienced its warmest year on record.

Mounting evidence also suggests that climate change may be linked to the dramatic drop of precipitation in California—a result of an unusual high-pressure weather pattern that blocked storms from the state.

Climate models show that climate change will keep making the state hotter and dryer in the years to come. One recent study found that by midcentury nearly every year will be warm or extremely warm in California, while another found that the entire American West will soon be gripped by “megadroughts” lasting as long as 30 years.

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