California’s carbon emissions fell 9% in the first year of the pandemic

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s global warming emissions fell nearly 9% in 2020 from a year earlier as pandemic restrictions kept people home, out of their cars and away from the workplace for much of the year.

The data released Wednesday marks the largest drop in emissions in a single year in California and follows a similar reduction nationwide. An official warned that the data cannot be used as a marker of future trends because the pandemic has caused unprecedented but temporary economic changes.

“This year will be seen as an outlier,” California Air Resources Board chief executive Steven Cliff told reporters before the data was released.

Indeed, data from the Global Carbon Project indicated a rebound in global emissions in 2021 once pandemic restrictions across the globe began to ease.

Much of the drop was due to fewer people driving during the early months of the pandemic, when schools and office buildings closed and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered people to stay home. Emissions from passenger cars, delivery trucks and other forms of transportation are by far California’s largest source and most stubborn to crack. But they fell 16% in 2020, according to the Air Board.

Miles traveled in light passenger cars fell 44% in April 2020 from the same month a year earlier, said Nicole Dolney, head of the Air Board’s emissions inventory branch.

Elsewhere, industrial emissions fell 9% due to lower demand for oil and gas production and refining. Residential and commercial emissions fell 4%, likely because warmer weather meant homes and businesses turned on their heaters less, she said.

California is at the forefront in many areas of U.S. climate policy, adopting some of the earliest and most aggressive goals to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. By 2045, the state has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality, to be achieved by significantly reducing emissions from vehicles, buildings, and other sources, and leveraging technology to suck the remaining carbon into the air.

Under Newsom’s leadership, the Air Board recently passed a policy to end the sale of most new gas-powered cars in the state by 2045.

Overall, California has some of the lowest per capita emissions among the states. In 2020, the state accounted for about 6% of total U.S. emissions, based on comparisons with EPA data. But the state, with around 39 million people, is home to 12% of the country’s population.

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