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California’s 2020 emissions could jump by as much as 4 percent if it fails to meet its cap-and-trade emissions goal

California’s 2020 emissions could jump by as much as 4 percent if it fails to meet its cap-and-trade emissions goal

California set a record for greenhouse gas reductions in 2020, but it means nothing if emissions aren’t curbed after that point.

California’s new 2020 goal may be on the books, and the state’s official count of its emissions is higher than before. But the real-world impact of the state’s climate action remains to be seen, and likely depends on future global action on carbon.

California’s official emissions in 2020 are 23 percent lower than in 2005, according to a new analysis of the state’s climate data by the Climate Leadership Council. But that number fails to capture the true impact of statewide efforts under current policies. The analysis, published this week by Berkeley and UCLA academic researchers, demonstrates that emissions could increase further than was projected in 2020 without a drastic reduction of state emissions.

“We are going to get to a point where we can’t look back and say we’re achieving this clean energy economy and then, say, 40, 50, 60 years from now and still maintain the same climate policy,” said Benjamin S. Strauss, the Berkeley professor and co-author of the study. “We need emissions at the end of this decade to be lower than the year we start.”

California’s economy is already in a recession and could face more as global and national markets for emissions continue to slow. Meanwhile, the state and others, including South Korea, have pledged to meet or exceed their emissions reductions goals under the Paris climate agreement, though the agreement’s final text remains in flux.

The study estimates that California’s 2020 emissions will jump by as much as 4 percent if the state fails to reduce its 2020 emissions by an amount equal to the state’s emissions reductions under the cap-and-trade program established in 2007.

That’s about as big a jump as California has seen since reaching its cap-and-trade-based emissions reduction goal in 2010, when it was projected to lose 5 percent of the state’s emissions.

The new analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, assumes the cap-and-trade model would still be in place in 2020. But that’s the case for only a couple of years, Strauss said.

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