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Testimony: Accelerating California’s climate goals will save lives and dollars

California State Capitol. Photo by Canva.

On March 15, 2023, SB 12 — introduced by Senator Henry Stern and sponsored by The Climate Center — passed out of the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee by a final vote of five to two. The bill would require California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, accelerating the state’s current statutory goal of 40 percent reductions by 2030.

The following testimony was given to the committee by Barry Vesser, Chief Operating Officer for The Climate Center:

Good morning chair and members of the committee. My name is Barry Vesser with The Climate Center.

As the UN Secretary-General said, we are witnessing “code red for humanity.” More than 200 medical journals have also warned us that our rapidly warming climate poses the greatest single threat to public health, and that no rise in temperature is safe. With the state being pummeled by atmospheric rivers super-charged by climate change, the time for accelerated climate action is now.

As California has shown with AB 32, SB 32, SB 100, and our 2035 zero-emission vehicle goals, establishing bold targets sends market signals that unleash private investment and innovation. Last year, Energy Innovation used their Energy Policy Simulator model and found that reducing climate pollution 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, as proposed by SB 12, will create millions of jobs in the coming decades. That includes more than 50,000 new jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors alone. 

We believe that the 55 percent target is achievable. The European Union set its goal at 62 percent by 2030 and the United Kingdom at 68 percent by 2030. A recent report by The Climate Center based on Energy innovation’s model found that California can actually achieve 65 percent emissions reductions by 2030, which would have even greater benefits for our state. We urge the committee to seriously consider adopting this target, which is commensurate with the science and deteriorating climate reality. New state investments and federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act will allow California to not only meet but beat the current targets in SB 12. 

To ensure our approach is equitable, we need to move as quickly as possible. A report by E3 shows that California could avoid almost 5,000 deaths per year from fossil fuel pollution by rapidly decarbonizing buildings and transportation. The fatalities resulting from this pollution today are occurring predominantly in communities of color. Second, we must ensure that climate solutions do not increase the pollution burden frontline communities face. We strongly support adding guardrail language to the bill as suggested by our environmental justice colleagues.

Let’s move forward together to secure a vibrant, prosperous, healthy, and equitable future for all. Please vote yes on SB 12.

Regrettably, Dr. Dan Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Sustainability at UC Berkeley, could not join us today because he is out of the country. But he did ask me to share this quote with you:

“SB 12 sets a bold target for California, although recent analysis shows that there is headroom to do more. Setting urgently needed and ambitious targets sends signals to agencies, private interests, and markets to direct crucial investment resources to innovative and creative ventures. The target and plans to achieve it will position California to take full advantage of the federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act and the infrastructure bill, which will enable us to meet this goal.

“Reaching this target is a matter of political will, good policy, and focus by California state agencies, not technical feasibility. Given the climate impacts that California has been experiencing, what is in the pipeline for the future, and the significant damage that frontline communities face every day from fossil fuel production and use, we need a sense of urgency. We need to make bold investments. Please support SB 12.”