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California Cuts Emissions as Its Economy Booms

California’s economic growth recently outpaced the United Kingdom to become the fifth largest GDP in the world. And it did so while going green.

ByKelsey TsipisNOVA NextNOVA Next
Transportation comprises nearly 40% of California's total greenhouse gas emissions.

As years go, 2016 was a good one for California.

The state’s gross domestic product rose by 2.9 percent, outpacing the national average for the sixth consecutive year and pushing the state into the sixth slot for largest economies in the world. Since then, California’s economic growth has continued its climb, recently outpacing the United Kingdom to become the fifth largest GDP in the world.

And it did so while going green.

According to data released this week by the California Air Resources Board , California hit a major milestone in its fight against climate change ahead of schedule. The data show that, in 2016, the state’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped 2.7%, reaching levels last seen in 1990. It was a target set during former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration that the state had hoped to hit in 2020.

The success is largely attributed to recent efforts to promote renewable energy in the state, such as regulations that require utility companies get one-third of their electricity from solar, wind, or other renewable resources.

The milestone gives the state a head start in meeting its next two lofty climate goals. Currently, the state’s 2030 target would require cutting its current emissions levels in half, from 429.4 to to 258.6 million metric tons. From there, the target moves even steeper, to a total of 82.2 million metric tons by 2050.

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For Californians, that may mean lifting off the gas a bit. Transportation is the state’s largest source of pollution, comprising nearly 40% of its total emissions. And it hasn’t made nearly the strides the energy sector has. Here’s David Baker for the San Francisco Chronicle :

According to the Air Resources Board, emissions from transportation grew in 2016, as relatively cheap gasoline and a strengthening economy led to higher fuel sales. And while California has aggressively supported electric cars, only about 200,000 are registered in the state.

“We have not made progress on transportation,” [UC Berkeley energy economist Severin] Borenstein said. “We’ve made negative progress.”

In contrast, efforts to slash emissions from power plants have been far more successful, and are running well ahead of schedule.

For many, the state’s success substantiates claims that climate goals don’t have to come at the expense of a growing economy. In response to the announcement, Schwarzenegger tweeted:

“Surpassing our 2020 emissions goal ahead of schedule while our economy grows by a nation-leading 4.9% and our unemployment rate is at a historic low should send a message to politicians all over the country: you don’t have to re-invent the wheel – just copy us.”

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