This week, the California Air Resources Board is expected to approve what is called its Framework plan 2022, the plan to make the state, the fourth largest economy in the world, carbon neutral by 2045. The plan is more than ambitious. “It will spur an economic transformation akin to the Industrial Revolution,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said when it was released last month.
Decarbonization over the next 22 years will of course require more than a plan backed by bold statements. What would help is a plan that has stood the test of time. And that’s where California seems to have more work to do.
CARB started with four way to carbon neutrality and selected the one it deemed most likely to materialize under a fairly limited set of assumptions. When the future diverges from these assumptions, then what?
For example, the plan relies heavily on capturing carbon from power plants and the air and either using it in some way or “sequestering” it. But carbon capture technology may not be ready, scalable and profitable fast enough, as climate experts have underline. Likewise, the plan assumes that Californians will drive less, an assumption that goes against decades of growing travel. Such problems mean that the state’s decarbonization plan is fragile, prone to failure even under stress or scrutiny.
Costs and benefits are not fully accounted for either. The plan indicates that its effect on employment and economic growth will be negligible. Cleaner air will yield “$199 billion in benefits in the form of reduced hospitalizations, asthma cases, and lost work and school days.”
Full accounting is essential. For exemple, traffic jam and killed on the road costs the state $33 billion a year. Significant reductions in travel, if materialized, would reduce these costs, but the plan does not calculate potential savings. This recognizes but does not yet quantify its impacts on other key issues, including water quality, agricultural and forestry resources, and recreation.
These weaknesses – unmanaged uncertainty and partial accounting – make the plan politically vulnerable. It will be too easy to poke holes in it when new laws, regulations and funding are needed to implement its various parts. Decarbonization will require the support of state and local policymakers, industries, interest and advocacy groups, and residents of all political stripes. Many of these stakeholders, while supportive of climate goals, have their own compelling priorities: regional economic growth, job security, poverty alleviation, sustaining agriculture, or alleviating food shortages. accommodations. They will want to know: how will this transformation affect them? Can they trust the air resources council’s analysis?
Testing the CARB plan would address its uncertainty and accounting shortfalls. Although the state and the research community have undertaken partial studies for individual sectorsthere was no built-in stress test of the whole plan.
A rigorous test would examine thousands of possible futures, each based on different assumptions about population and economic growth rates; variable demand for goods, services and travel; the cost and availability of technologies; changes in energy efficiency; public reaction to policy changes; and the effects of climate change on natural resources. The results could tell us what could lead the state to miss its emissions targets or lead to a future where the costs of certain carbon-limiting actions outweigh the benefits. The state could then protect itself against these conditions.
Here’s how stress testing worked in Costa Rica, which developed its own decarbonization plan in 2019. As in California, The Costa Rica project was ambitious, touched all aspects of its economy and faced skepticism. But Costa Rica has deployed sophisticated analytics to evaluate your project under 3,003 sets of assumptions: a booming or slowly growing economy, greater or lesser demand for transport, shrinking or thriving forests, etc. Their guiding question was: “Under what future conditions will we not achieve net zero emissions by 2050, or will it cost us more than it will benefit us? »
The ambitious analysis showed that Costa Rica would achieve, or almost, its goal in more than three-quarters of future models. It had negative net issues in nearly half of those futures contracts. The analysis also revealed that a key failure point was whether demand for fossil fuel-based transportation was unchecked. This idea has helped Costa Rica galvanize its efforts to modernize urban transportation.
The researchers further calculated that decarbonization by 2050 would require upfront investments of around $37 billion, but would also provide $78 billion in savings and benefits – a 110% return, including including increased crop yields, fewer traffic jams and fewer accidents on the streets. of its capital, San José.
Costa Rica then assembled a strong coalition of domestic support – allaying the concerns of many who were reluctant to make big changes – and submitted the plan to the United Nations as a demonstration of its commitment to the Paris agreement. on the climate.
California’s 2022 blueprint says it provides “a way forward and a vision” to address the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, including pollution, wildfires, extreme heat and Drought. “This plan,” the summary concludes, “is fundamentally based on hope.”
Decarbonization cannot be based on hope. The stakes are too high. The state needs and deserves a future-proof, stress-proof plan that all Californians can trust to meet its climate goals.
Nidhi Kalra is a senior information specialist at Rand Corp. Together with the Inter-American Development Bank, it is developing net decarbonization pathways that benefit every country in Latin America.