California Climate Policy

California: A Global Climate Leader

California has played a vital leadership role in climate and energy policy for decades. From its first energy efficiency initiatives for buildings and appliances nearly half a century ago, to its fuel efficiency and tailpipe standards for cars, and more recent renewable electricity standards, California has been a pioneer in policy solutions for a low-carbon future. A decade ago, Assembly Bill (AB) 32 put the state at the forefront of climate action with a commitment to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. On September 8th, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill (SB) 32, setting in law a bold 2030 emissions reduction target: 40 percent below 1990 levels.
AB32_signingGovernor Schwarzenegger signs AB 32 (top), photo credit: USC Schwarzenegger Institute; Governor Brown signs SB 32 (bottom), photo credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times.

The state’s economy has expanded vigorously as it has decarbonized. Since the end of the recession, California jobs have grown 50 percent faster than the national average, while carbon dioxide emissions have steadily declined. These results provide new optimism and evidence for a model others can follow to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while benefitting from stronger and higher-quality economic growth.

Our Work

Energy Innovation’s work focuses on designing and implementing policies to successfully meet the state’s 2030 emissions target. Continuing to employ a portfolio of policies, including performance standards and carbon pricing, will be crucial for achieving this feat.

In brief, performance standards have greatly increased the availability and use of energy efficient buildings, appliances, and vehicles. Because a meaningful fraction of required emission reductions is not responsive to carbon pricing, performance standards play a crucial role in California’s climate strategy. Carbon pricing, however, will also be vital to meeting the state’s ambitious 2030 target, by providing a flexible economy-wide incentive that can help capture any residual emission reductions. Climate Policy for the Real World presents these arguments in full.

Energy Innovation’s efforts to help the state meet its 2030 goal consist of three types of work: Original analysis, regulatory engagement, and communications work.

Original Analysis

Energy Innovation’s original analysis quantifies the impacts of different policy options to help optimize policy design. We are developing a California version of our Energy Policy Simulator to inform this policy mix. Our Moving California Forward study illustrates a technologically feasible path to meeting the 2030 target, and sheds new light on the co-benefits of climate action by quantifying improved air quality and quality-of-life from smarter urban development. We also have expertise in and monitor the state’s cap-and-trade program, including analysis of allowance auction outcomes and other market dynamics.

Regulatory Engagement

Energy Innovation engages in regulatory proceedings at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and other energy agencies through public comment letters and oral testimony. In addition to drawing on insights from our own analysis, we track the technical literature to extract answers to the thorny questions facing policymakers. The 2030 Scoping Plan process at CARB – which develops the state’s overall climate policy blueprint – is an important target for our engagement.


California climate policy is a complex issue. Energy Innovation works to highlight the simple truths behind the wisdom of bold action. We translate these policy topics into more digestible forms through op-eds and other media, and offer ourselves as a resource to reporters covering these issues. We also seek to export lessons learned in California to other places, including China and other U.S. states.