CA Legislative Staff Briefing on Accelerating California Climate Action

Hosted by: The Climate Center and Senator Henry Stern

May 14, 2021


For more information, please email:

  • Professor Dan Kammen kammen
  • Professor V. Ramanathan vramanathan 
  • Vince Wiraatmadja vincent 


Ellie Cohen, CEO The Climate Center. The Climate Center is a climate and energy policy nonprofit founded in 2001. 

  • We are best known for the key role we played in the growth of Community Choice Energy (CCAs). Today there are 24 CCAs in California serving 11 million Californians with 80-90% greenhouse gas-free electricity, a great example of our mission—speed and scale greenhouse gas reductions. CCAs engage dozens of local governments and local labor unions.

With almost 1200 endorsements from organizations, elected officials, businesses, local governments, and individuals, Climate-Safe California aims to accelerate state climate policy timelines and achieve net-negative emissions — capturing more carbon than we are emitting—by 2030, per the latest science.

We applaud Governor Newsom’s new budget allocations with $11 billion for climate action, but this is a down payment. We estimate that we need to double that each year to catalyze private sector investment at scale. 

A broad coalition of organizations support Senator Stern’s SB 582, the Climate Emergency Mitigation, Safe Restoration, and Just Resilience Act. It is aligned with Climate-Safe California and builds on the perspectives paper (currently in pre-publication) Accelerating Climate Action TImelines in California, co-authored by climate experts including our speakers today. 


Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Presidential Chair in Climate Sustainability at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. 

The Kammen paper is right on time. 

  • Learned at a Vatican meeting this morning that climate change education is on everyone’s minds. 
  • Everyone is tuned into this paper. 
  • Everyone understood the need to accelerate targets including John Kerry. 

Some scientists claim that we have already left the Holocene and are in the Anthropocene. The warming we are experiencing is happening much faster than anticipated. 

  • 2014 was a momentous year, the planet warmed by one degree Fahrenheit. This was also the time when the planetary ocean temperature exceeded the Eemian period 126,000 years ago for the first time. 
  • Warming is changing faster than expected and the impact on humans is unfolding more rapidly. We will now exceed the 1.5 C warming threshold by around 2030, 10 years earlier that the UN IPCC found. This is a big deal because of its links to weather extremes. 
  • Moving to 1.5 degrees Celsius in nine years means an amplification of at least 50% in climate impacts. I predict in the next decade that climate change will be in everyone’s living rooms.

Over the last 10 years 11 million acres have burned in CA (amounts to one third of the total forest land in CA). 

  • The rainfall in the entire southwest is decreasing. 
  • Northern CA the reduction is more than 40%, mostly during the fall season, when agriculture needs the water the most. 
  • In 10 years from now where will we get water for agriculture in CA? 
  • Soil evaporation is increasing, there is less rain, and the snow pack is going down.
  • CA must build climate resilience

Key actions that need to be taken are:

  • Accelerate Mitigation Efforts 
  • Secure water

We need to double down on how societies will manage these climate impacts, particularly the most vulnerable must become a big part of the effort. 

  • UCSD is putting forward a motion that the campus be fossil free in 10 years and everyone (staff, students, etc.) should get climate change education.


 Daniel Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley

The good news is that this paper highlights that California has fallen behind because our partners around the world are stepping up, inspired by our actions and have chosen to move ahead. This is a plus. 

  • CA is phasing out fossil fuel vehicles by 2035, but others like the United Kingdom and Massachusetts are targeting 2030, I believe we can do better than that. 

Benefits of Senator Stern’s SB 582 far outweigh the costs, and also insulate us from a wide range of climate damages that voters can’t sustain. 

  • Planning for resilience in vulnerable communities is very important. ‘
  • SB 449 is also important because it requires state agencies to do the assessment of climate damage and work with the private sector. 

Due to the cost declines in solar and wind, we can move faster toward decarbonizing the economy. 

  • CA’s current statutory clean energy target calls for 60% by 2030. 
  • A couple of weeks ago CA was 95% powered by clean energy now for a few hours. 
  • Setting more aggressive targets will drive new companies to set up shop in CA. 
  • CA has unique partnerships with China and other countries, which helps coordinate action and build markets.

California should set the goal for 100% ZEV sales to 2028 or even sooner. Markets headed in that direction. 


 Feliz Ventura, Economist, Hatch Urban Solutions

Have to ask the right questions in the right order. What happens if we invest? What happens if we don’t? Based on this we can decide if we can afford the outcomes of both scenarios. 

  • Climate-Specific Investment Considerations: Ecosystems and natural resources impacted. As impacts incur, we are compromising the ability to rely on natural assets. 
  • Progressing climate impacts mean costs will increase. Investments can be multi-level meaning air quality, employment, drive innovation to create economic opportunities. 
  • Can we afford to accelerate action? If we invest, we mitigate dangerous climate impacts, protect our frontline communities, innovate well-paying jobs and spur growth. 
  • If we don’t, we face a loss of a tolerable climate future, frontline communities suffer the most, lower growth in existing sectors and innovation foregone- fewer jobs.


Senator Henry Stern

We have to keep pushing and you have done that through your Climate-Safe California campaign refusing to ignore the science. Ambitions are not enough. 

  • This is an intersectional moment to make transformative change. I am thrilled by what the Governor put out today, and President Biden is also stepping up, but it is not enough. Frontline communities are affected the most. We need a budget to do something transformative.
  • We can’t just have just sugar, we need to take the medicine. We need to transform investments on the pathway of a safe climate. 
  • This is the decade and if we don’t get it done now, we are done. California won’t survive. I am very worried about our unambitious agenda. We need to do something big like SB 582. 
  • California has an anemic carbon market, it’s not going to work. 
  • We need to summon new coalitions. I hope to get SB 582 out of appropriations and on to the senate floor. 
  • The science demands a push. People are starting to get it. 
  • I would also appreciate some help on SB 449.


 Questions and Answers:

How are we going to pay for this? Year after year?

Dan – The actions we highlighted in this paper pay for themselves. We need to use some of the Governor’s climate budget as a down payment, an investment, but we have a large range of data that suggests we must do much more.

  • Water, forests, collapsing kelp forests, need to highlight these actions.
  • President Biden is directing all federal agencies to utilize the social cost of carbon. Looking at the damage of ecosystems and communities. 
  • The social cost is high but these measures are economically beneficial because if we do the full cost accounting the damages are far larger than investment. 
  • Actions will pay for themselves. Biden administration is saying we need to use the social cost of carbon, not based on the market price for carbon at about $20/ton of CO2, but the social cost for carbon about $50/ton.

In putting together the report, did you do something similar to the scoping plan to allocate reductions by sector to achieve the 80% target?  I.e. 90% in electricity, 70% in transportation, 80% in buildings, etc.?  And how much in negative emissions is being assumed in getting to net zero?

Dan Kammen- Did a similar process. Used a Switch model to look at how quickly we can get from 90% decarbonized sector to 100% decarbonized. 

  • Transportation sector biggest target. Ramped up number of electric and hydrocarbon vehicles. Heavy duty vehicles would be a fraction electric and   fraction hydrocarbon. 
  • State agencies directing other agencies to focus on hydrogen. 
  • Biden issued first permit for vineyard offshore wind farming. CA developing plans to get to 10 gigawatts. 
  • Huge ramp up on offshore wind would produce hydrogen when demands are low. 
  • (See more on modeling here).

Should CA accelerate its phase out date of ZEVs?

Dan Kammen – CA announced its phase out date in Sept. Since then, the United Kingdom and Massachusetts adopted 2030. 

  • Our phase out date should be 2028 or sooner. Prices will push us to make switch earlier. 
  • Every switch from gas to clean vehicles directly cleans the air in low-income communities. Not only will air quality improve but studies show power outages happen earlier, last longer, and are more frequent in minority communities. 
  • By investing in more, we must acknowledge we are extending environmental justice to those in harm’s way.

It’s my understanding that the paper has not been published in a journal yet. Can you provide an update on the status of publishing it?

Dan Kammen– It is available on a preprint website. It is submitted to Issues in Science and Technology. Paper is fully available now.

What are our opportunities to fund climate action at the scale needed?

Feliz Ventura– There are many ways, but we are missing the funding. Opportunity right now to address the needs related to climate action would be to recognize the parallels to climate change and the pandemic right now which has exposed the social and economic systems. Need to double down on the commitment of the future. 

Were we to have significant additional annual funding available, e.g., $30 B+, what would be our investment priorities over the next ten years?

Senator Stern – Start with transportation. 

  • Transportation is the largest source of pollution but also largest cost. Driving poverty and public health. If we can get to zero emissions, it would change the whole world. Not just CA. Transit puzzle is the biggest piece.
  • Housing crisis is second. Getting to 100% in a way that doesn’t break the bank. Focus on resilience and adaptation at the same time. Super flood predicted so resilience is huge. 
  • Investing natural working land space as well. 
  • And we need to close the 1500 most dangerous wells now. 
  • It’s time to go big.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan- I want to emphasize we need to mitigate climate super pollutants now – methane, refrigerants, and black carbon from diesel . 

  • Bending the carbon curve is essential but the effects won’t show up for another 30 years which is why we must act now. 
  • Cutting super pollutants now is the only way to prevent significant temperature rise. 
  • Building resilience, climate emission warms up the planet everywhere
  • Need a plan B so if the rest of the world doesn’t follow us, how is CA going to protect itself? We need a long-term plan. Some agencies need to investigate this. 
  • If this continues and gets worse our agriculture will not be sustainable.
  • Climate justice is number one priority to protect vulnerable communities. We need to think about the water. Disaster waiting to happen. Water will have to be brought in.

Senator Stern – Appreciates the science Ramanathan brings. Water crisis is here right now. Wildfires cause permanent genetic impacts on children’s lungs and expectant mothers. We need to go big now.