SAN FRANCISCO — Vowing to lead the world's response to global warming, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday announced a series of ambitious targets for cutting California's greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% over the next half-century, but provided few details on how the state could achieve such dramatic reductions.
In a speech before hundreds of business and environmental leaders at the United Nations World Environment Day conference in San Francisco, Schwarzenegger signed an executive order that outlined bold goals for slashing industrial releases of carbon dioxide and the other heat-trapping gases that climate scientists now link to rising temperatures and sea levels.
"As of today, California is going to be the leader in the fight against global warming," Schwarzenegger said, adding, "I say the debate is over. We know the science, we see the threat, and the time for action is now."
Under the executive order, by 2010 California would reduce its greenhouse gases to 2000 levels, or about 11% less than they would be without taking action. By 2020, California would reduce the emissions to 1990 levels, or about 25%. By 2050, the state would reduce the emissions to 80% below 1990 levels.
The 1990 baseline is a key barometer in the growing international effort to combat global warming, because it is the mark countries pledged to get below as part of the Kyoto Protocol, a pact signed by every developed nation except Australia, Monaco and the United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Schwarzenegger's proposal, which follows similar pledges by a number of states around the country, is only about half as aggressive as the Kyoto targets in the short run. But its long-term goals are far more ambitious than anything proposed in the United States. Indeed, some climate experts said that if California reduced its emissions by the targets Schwarzenegger set, it would cut more greenhouse gases than Japan, France or the United Kingdom.
Schwarzenegger never mentioned President Bush in his speech, but his call for aggressive action is a repudiation of the Bush administration's position on climate change. Bush reneged on a campaign pledge to curtail carbon dioxide emissions made during his initial campaign for president, and formally renounced the Kyoto pact. The Bush administration has since advocated only voluntary steps to reduce the gases, arguing that more drastic measures would damage the American economy.
By contrast, Schwarzenegger said Wednesday he believed reducing greenhouse gases could be an economic opportunity for businesses in Silicon Valley and elsewhere that develop pollution control technologies.
Exactly how Schwarzenegger proposes to achieve such drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions remained unclear, however. In his speech, the governor pledged to speed up an existing California requirement that private utilities provide 20% of their power from renewable energy, moving the deadline from 2017 to 2010. He also pledged to make good on his goal of dramatically increasing the number of homes in the state with solar power panels. And he promised to lobby business leaders throughout the state to voluntarily reduce emissions.
But even before Schwarzenegger had announced his targets, political critics were calling his proposal short on substance, and it was clear that it would be the subject of heated debate in Sacramento.
Democratic lawmakers moved a rival proposal that set stronger early targets through an Assembly policy committee Tuesday, and Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), the author of a landmark state law to curtail greenhouse gases from cars and trucks, announced another bill to reduce the emissions from factories, power plants and other stationary sources.
"I hope that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 'Global Action Plan' on global warming does not turn out to be another empty and cynical promise like the governor's pledge to convert one of his many Hummers to hydrogen," said California Treasurer Phil Angelides, a leading Democratic contender for governor in next year's election.
Some climate experts said Wednesday that the most realistic way for California to make steep reductions in greenhouse gases would be by setting a hard cap on the emissions, and allowing companies that cut more than their allotted share to receive credits they could sell to others that exceed their limits.
Such "cap and trade" systems have proved successful in cutting the sulfur dioxide pollution that causes acid rain in the United States and are now being used in Europe to curtail greenhouse gases. In the Northeast, a coalition of states is formulating a regional cap and trade market to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that states can no longer wait for action from the federal government.