California just made a major move on climate change. But it comes with a big asterisk or two.
Driving the news: Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order yesterday aimed at making the entire state "carbon neutral" by 2045 and "carbon negative" thereafter.
That's in addition to signing, as expected, major legislation that would require the state's electricity to come solely from zero-carbon sources by the same date.
Why it matters: California is the world's fifth-largest economy, and the move — just ahead of a major climate summit in the state — is the latest and biggest example of local and regional governments acting on their own.
The intrigue: Executive orders lack the power of new statutes.
“It doesn’t have much enforcement teeth, but it is an important signal — the largest carbon neutral pledge by any economy,” Energy Innovation's Chris Busch tells Axios.
What they're saying: Busch and other sources I touched base with last night pointed out that past governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brown have previously set climate targets by executive order that subsequently became law.
- That includes the target of cutting statewide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (a goal the state already met), which became embedded in AB 32, the state's 2006 global warming law, and Brown's 2030 emissions target that also became codified.
- “There’s a track record of these things [becoming law],” Busch says.
Yes, but: Achieving the target will ultimately rest on the advancement of various so-called negative emissions technologies — such as direct air capture and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage — and other challenges.
- It'll be an immense task for the state's agencies to figure out how to implement the aspirational goal.
- MIT Technology Review sums up the tough road ahead:
There are still major technological hurdles to cleaning up shipping, aviation, long-haul trucking, or other industries, and negative-emissions technologies haven’t been shown to work on a large scale yet.
Go deeper: The San Francisco Chronicle looks in detail at the move here, including this note of caution:
California had previously set a target of cutting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 — already considered a difficult task.