A new report on pollution, economic growth, and renewable energy in California sheds new light on the link between emissions regulations and economic growth ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco next month.
The report released Thursday shows that even as the state implemented stricter emissions standards than other states and most countries, its economy continued to grow faster.
The report, the 10th edition of the California Green Innovation Index, was produced by Next10, a non-profit research and education firm, and Beacon Economics, a California economic research and consulting firm.
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California passed its own climate-change regulation in 2006, the Global Warming Solutions Act (better known as AB32), which set a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The Green Innovation Index shows that since AB32 passed, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped slightly more than the national average, while per capita GDP in the state outpaced national growth by more than 35 percent.
The report notes that aggressive European climate change policy cut greenhouse gas emissions even more, but had relatively slow economic growth.
The study links clean air mandates to a growth in technology patents, which in turn have driven up economic productivity. California registered 3 to 5 times as many patents in 2017 as the next nearest state in categories such as wind, solar, transportation, and air and the environment.
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These developments have boosted what the study calls the state’s “energy productivity,” a measure of GDP per 10,000 Btu of energy consumed. California boosted economic activity 19 percent per Btu of energy consumed between 2010 and 2015, to $3.29 in GDP for every 10,000 Btu of energy used, compared with $1.75 for the rest of the United States.
Before AB32 was passed in 2006, the growth in energy productivity all came on in GDP growth—actual energy use did not decline. Since 2006, energy use declined more than 7 percent between 2006 and 2015.
One of the state’s primary efforts to reduce energy consumption has been its mandates for electric cars. California accounts for 47 percent of all the electric cars sold in the U.S. since 2011, and electrics now make up more than 10 percent of car sales in the state.
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Even with that, California’s efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions were overwhelmed by population growth and the attendant increase in the number of cars on the road and the number of miles driven since 2006. Total transportation emissions rose 2.1 percent in the state since 2016.
Cleaner electric buses somewhat offset the spike in emissions from other types of vehicles, and emissions have fallen overall since 2008.
The state more than doubled renewable energy generation since 2006, primarily with wind power. Renewables now make up more than 25 percent of California’s electricity, which is enough to put the state on track to meet the climate targets it set forth in AB32 despite increases in cars.
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