If Californians are going to reach their goal of massive greenhouse gas reductions in the next 40 years, they’ve got their work cut out for them. But the goal is not impossible, according to a team of researchers that has provided a blueprint to get there.
In a paper published last week in the online version of the journal Science, the authors show it is possible for California to achieve its state-mandated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. It's going to take a bit of effort and a conversion to carbon-neutral, electrically powered cars and appliances.
"The task is formidable, but not impossible," said Jim Williams, an associate professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and co-author of the paper. "And it isn't a matter of technology alone. R&D, investment, infrastructure planning, incentives for businesses, even behavior changes all have to work in tandem. This requires policy, and society needs to be behind it."
The study was conducted by researchers from UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Energy and Environmental Economics, a consulting firm.
California is the world’s sixth-largest economy and 12th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
A California law, known as AB 32, requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which is about a 30 percent below current emissions. The law further requires the state to reduce levels even more: 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.
To do this, the state will have to move away from fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emitters and start investing in carbon-neutral electricity production, such as nuclear power, renewables and carbon storage. Williams and report co-author Margaret Torn, head of the Climate and Carbon Sciences Program at the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, said the means to achieve these goals exist with current technology.
"There's no technological reason why we shouldn’t achieve it," Williams said.
However, "when you go out to 2050, you will need to have some new technologies that don’t currently exist in commercialized or commercially competitive forms," he said.
Those technologies include carbon capture and sequestration, he said. The technology is there, but it's not commercialized yet.
But, "we don’t need to develop entirely new technologies," he said. "We're not talking about a hydrogen economy."
The authors say we will have to rely on a different – no carbon-producing – energy production system, however. They lay out four scenarios they say are equal in cost and investment: electricity that relies on nuclear power, renewables, carbon storage or a mixture of the three.
They say the bulk of efficiencies will have to be realized in the business sector through improvements in building insulation, lighting and appliances.
Torn says the most important thing about the group's paper is that it provides a "road map" for city and infrastructure planners.
"When we build new roads, for instance, or the Bay Bridge, things like bike lanes will be considered," she said.