At work: Global Warming Solutions Act – coming up on 10 years

Nearly 10 years have passed since California’s landmark 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act was enacted. Question is: Was this the right environmental cause to back?

The reason for my asking is because in America’s most populous state with roughly 39 million residents, better than 1-in-2 live in areas where toxic air poses a serious threat. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 – California Assembly Bill (AB) 32 – meanwhile, was intended to help address the problems associated with planet warming. And, now with the state mandated climate-related resolutions seemingly headed toward the proverbial brick wall, I am wondering if, after almost a decade, it is now not time for a major course correction. In other words, did the Global Warming Solutions Act, with its provisions and programs, provide the right tools for the right job at the right time?

So, let’s investigate further, shall we?

AB 32 – a landmark bill

“AB 32, known as the Global Warming Solutions Act (co-authored by then California Assemblywoman Fran Pavley and then Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez), ‘…establishes a mandatory reporting system to track and monitor greenhouse gas emission levels and institutes a limit on greenhouse gas emissions,’ as Nunez explained in a weekly radio address he delivered to listeners on August 12, 2006, roughly three months prior to the bill passing that year in November. A target of AB 32 is to reduce GHG emissions in state to 1990 levels by 2020 or by about 25 percent, and by ‘an additional 80 percent by 2050,’ the PPIC noted.”1

The law, incidentally, became effective Jan. 1, 2007.

Souring economy, devastating drought

Part of the problem as I see it is, shortly after AB 32 becoming law, the economy took a serious turn for the worse. Therefore, it should be no surprise, I would say, that the main national preoccupation, particularly during President Obama’s first term in office, was to get the nation’s economy on sound footing. This preoccupation therefore was responsible for anything less important in the public perception to be relegated to back-burner status and that included the matter dealing with climate correction.

Channelislandsca[1]Then, making things worse, was the western drought. With the economy recovering post-2012, water then became the focus. Supplies in the Golden State were running dangerously low, the experts were telling us and, all of a sudden, the drought out west itself, as well as talk about it, overshadowed all other concerns.

State GHG-reduction success

It is coming up on 10 years since enactment of AB 32. Its success can be measured in the amount of GHG emissions reduction progress made since the initiative’s first days. Today, state GHG emissions are at a level of 441.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e). However, in order to meet AB 32 targets, state GHG emissions output needs to be by 2020, at a level of 431 MMTCO2e.

Importantly, despite all the so-called “distractions,” greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction work was, nevertheless, in state, making considerable headway.

Meanwhile, cap-and-trade auction activity initially was – and for some time remained – brisk. Most of all, GHG emissions output was trending negatively. And, just when all seemed to be going oh so smoothly, lo and behold, thrown into the inner workings, a wrench. It was as if the wheels of the GHG-emissions-suppressing machine came to a grinding halt.

As to the longevity of cap-and-trade, there is no telling at this point if the program will survive beyond 2020 when AB 32 is set to expire.

What to expect going forward?

Really quickly, never lose sight of the fact that while emissions from the non-transport sector are in decline, those from transportation are on the rise. That’s troubling. Reason being? Should additional sectors all of a sudden reverse course, the net effect resulting in either a leveling off in GHG or, worse, a GHG increase, then that would be the worst nightmare regarding emissions-reduction progress coming true.

That said, keep in mind this is an election year, and depending upon who wins the race for the presidency, this could very well be a barometer of how environmental protection will fare in the years ahead, i.e., whether there will be continued improvement or whether all or part of the positive work already done will be undone.

What will it be? Care to make any predictions?


  1. Alan Kandel, “A Matter of Life and Death: Not Meeting AB 32’s Objectives Is Insanity,” California Progress Report, Feb. 24, 2011


Both images above: NASA

– Alan Kandel

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