Here’s how California will fight climate change, despite Trump

Even before President Trump announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord, many elected officials in California–from the governor on down–made it clear that they plan to forge ahead with the fight against global warming. But what options does the state have when it comes to going it alone? And how much impact could it have?

KCRW spoke to Severin Borenstein, professor and researcher at the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business to find out some of the ways California will fight climate change. Borenstein said there are California’s tough fuel economy rules for cars and trucks:

Severin Borenstein: I think that California continuing to improve fuel economy standards for vehicles and also continuing to push for alternative fuel vehicles including electric vehicles and hydrogen-fueled vehicles and fuel cells and so forth. All of that I think helps to move transportation away from the fossil fuels in a way that is exportable to the rest of the world. And that’s the real key here. California is only 1 percent world greenhouse gas emissions and so what we do here is most important in the effect it has on other countries, particularly the developing world. Whether it’s better fuel economy or alternative transportation technologies, or market mechanisms like California’s cap and trade program, which China has studied very closely and is now adopting something quite similar. Those are the sorts of things CA can do on its own to continue to push forward the fight against climate change.

KCRW: In the past, the state has offered tax incentives for solar energy, for alternative fuel vehicles. Do you see perhaps the state taking that to the next step in saying okay perhaps we offer tax incentives not just for individual vehicles but for technology development

SB: I hope so. I think that California really could be a leader in new technology development not just in the lab, but also in the downstream, in the rollout of these technologies. And that is an area that the state really has an advantage in. If you look at the economy of California, our real value is in knowledge creation, developing new products and developing new processes for producing them.

KCRW: So basically the idea being, take the expertise that we’ve developed and honed over the last 40, 50 years as far as developing new technology, venture capital all of that, and really bring it to bear on the issue of climate change.

SB: I think that’s right. I think that California is already doing that in many areas, but with the federal government stepping away from climate change, I think that that is going to put more emphasis in California on taking a leadership role. We are the 6th or 7th largest economy in the world and so we have a lot of economic power and a lot of knowledge that we can apply to this problem. And when you look around the world, at what other countries are doing, many of them if not most of them look to California for leadership.

KCRW: A bill being considered by the state legislature would require that 100 percent of the electricity in California come from renewables by 2050. Do you see that perhaps as being another prong in the state’s campaign on climate change?

SB: Yeah it’s definitely another prong. And it’s a great example because we don’t have the technology yet to run a stable electricity system purely on renewable energy. But we also have 30 plus years to meet that goal, and so this is laying a goal out there in the pretty distant future that says we’re gonna go down the road and figure out how to drive down renewable energy cost, how to deal with the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, but still have a stable electricity system. And that’s all gonna create knowledge and technologies that the rest of the world can then study and adopt.

KCRW: Governor Jerry Brown is heading to China for a series of meetings on climate change. This is a trip that was planned before the president’s announcement. How significant do you think these kinds of diplomatic efforts by the state are? Is there more to this than just optics?

SB: I think there’s a lot more than optics. I think these are the sorts of relationships that it would have been nice if the United States was building, but if the United States isn’t gonna build, that CA should build to create knowledge flows between major countries and states. I think that these sorts of relationships and sharing of information is going to be critical in moving the world to a lower greenhouse gas future.

(Photo: Nick Ares)