California’s Economy has Prospered Due to State’s Ambitious Climate Efforts

Kirsten James
Kirsten James is director of California Policy and Partnerships at Ceres, a nonprofit organization mobilizing business and investor leadership on climate change, water scarcity and other global sustainability challenges.

Tackling climate change is one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.   As an organization that works with companies large and small, across many business sectors, including apparel, electric power, financial services and technology, and investors managing more than $15 trillion in assets, we can see first-hand how California’s bold climate change policies are catalyzing enormous economic opportunities and new jobs. We were dismayed to read recent op-eds from Jack Bean (“It’s Time to Hold Climate Change Policy-Makers Accountable,” 1/6/17) and Tom Scott (“Small Business Reacts to Governor Brown’s Budget Announcement,” 1/11/17) that expressed concern about the state’s climate leadership and misrepresented its economic impacts. In truth, our state’s climate policies are fostering economic prosperity and those that claim otherwise are ignoring the facts.

Claims that California’s economy cannot grow, and businesses cannot thrive, while implementing forward-thinking climate policies are shortsighted and downright wrong. Numerous studies show that California’s climate policies, including landmark climate law AB 32, are generating jobs all across the state. A 2015 UC Berkeley/Next 10 study estimated that these policies will help create 341,000 full-time jobs by 2030. We’re also seeing that as greenhouse gas emissions reductions are being achieved, the state’s economy is growing at nearly double the rate of the national economy. California is creating more jobs per capita than both Arizona and Texas. California has gained more than 450,000 jobs in the last 12 months alone, a gain of nearly 3 percent – better than any state but one.

Especially encouraging is recently released research by Next 10 and UC Berkley showing that the state’s push toward clean energy is creating net gains of tens of thousands of jobs in San Joaquin Valley and economic benefits totaling $13.4 billion. Given historically higher unemployment and pollution levels in the Valley, this promising progress is an important “bellwether for the state’s climate policies,” the report’s authors noted.

Meanwhile, California has moved from being the world’s 10th largest economy in 2010 to the sixth largest economy today. That fact alone should give pause to critics of our state’s climate policies.

Of particular importance in looking at our upcoming legislative session in Sacramento is continuing beyond 2020 the implementation of the state’s carbon cap and trade program, a critical component of AB 32, which has catalyzed tens of thousands of new jobs in the renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative low-carbon fuel and transportation sectors. This approach has worked in large part because California has invested cap and trade revenue toward innovative low-carbon sectors that are positioning themselves to compete in the emerging low-carbon global economy.

One last point: contrary to critics’ claims, US business community is more committed than ever to tackling climate change, lowering their carbon footprint, and advocating for policies that will give them the regulatory certainty they need to accelerate their low-carbon strategies. Earlier this month, more than 630 US businesses and investors, dozens of them based in California, sent a statement to President Trump and Congressional leaders calling on them to continue supporting low-carbon policies, including US participation in the landmark Paris Climate Agreement.

Those who refuse to acknowledge the significant economic gains California has experienced under AB 32 and key supporting programs such as cap and trade should embrace – not belittle – overwhelming evidence showing that we are thriving and growing because of these policies.

California has a long history of taking a stand, confronting challenges, and seizing on opportunities. Today, our economic prosperity is threatened by a changing climate. Businesses that invest in a cleaner future will put us on a safer global path – and will flourish in doing so.

Kirsten James is director of California Policy and Partnerships at Ceres, a nonprofit organization mobilizing business and investor leadership on climate change, water scarcity and other global sustainability challenges.

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