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Activists demand carbon-free California by 2035

Even Governor Gavin Newsom thinks the California Air Resources Board's plan for carbon neutrality is timid.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — The effects of climate change are the talk of California’s plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. That's not soon enough for many, as was evident during a packed meeting of the California Air Resources Board on Thursday evening.

Impacts from climate change and greenhouse gas emissions have been felt over the past several years with more erratic weather patterns, heat domes and a long-term drought affecting millions of Californians.

The board is in the process of updating the climate change plan and has embarked on a road tour through California gathering comments before the final plan is approved this year. The plan will provide guidance for the board and other state agencies to implement projects to reduce carbon and methane emissions and provide reliable and renewable energy to millions of Californians.

Maureen Hand, staff member for the climate change planning section at the California Air Resources Board, presented an overview of the 2022 scoping plan before a nearly full house in Oakland.

“Over 60% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation and industrial,” said Hand. “To meet the goals of cutting emissions and carbon neutrality the emissions from these two sectors will need to be reduced, while also building a way to capture and store carbon from the air.”

She noted that even if immediate cuts were ordered this year, it would still be sometime before the changes are noticed in the data.

But even Governor Gavin Newsom has said the plan isn't ambitious enough. A few days before the meeting, he sent a letter to the board saying he wants to deploy up to 20 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2045 and create 3 million climate-ready and friendly homes by 2030 — and 7 million by 2035.

Newsom said he also wants the state to move away from natural gas plants and wants the aviation industry to at minimum use cleaner fuels. Finally, Newsom wants to the oil and gas industry to detect and stop methane leaks.

“To achieve carbon neutrality we need to produce and utilize more zero-carbon, clean energy from sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydrogen than ever before,” wrote Newsom.

Hand addressed Newsom's letter at the meeting. She said the governor's requests will be incorporated into the final plan.

Electrification and transportation are two key areas of the current plan and will be critical to meeting the goals set by Newsom. Moving to all zero emission vehicles and moving away from natural gas usage will require more renewable energy and storage facilities to meet the demand.

“Moving to electrification intensity will increase the use of electricity in California by 60% by 2045. This will require a robust grid of renewable energy, storage and resiliency across California," Hand said. "To meet these ambitious targets work must begin this decade on renewable energy projects and consumers must adopt zero emission vehicles and other technologies at rates not seen before."

But a number of activists associated with Democratic Socialists of America, Food and Water Action of California and United Native Americans spoke out against the current scoping plan. Most said more needs to be done right now and that carbon neutrality by 2045 is too late. Many speakers called for the end of fossil fuel use by no later than 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2035.

A number of primary care doctors from Oakland said the goal of the plan should be on public health, as climate change is a public health emergency. They highlighted that the impacts from climate change are a public health emergency.

None of the speakers supported carbon capture and sequestration, which Hand said is part of the plan. The speakers noted the technology has never worked on a large scale and is just a way for the fossil fuel industry to avoid drastic change.

Everyone who spoke said the current draft plan falls short and does not show California leading the nation.

The final plan will be released in late 2022.

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