Unparalleled by any other state, California has stepped up to address climate change and associated threats to public health. Its landmark climate change legislation, Assembly Bill 32 or the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, set rigorous targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and now California is in full swing implementing many of the proposed reduction activities.
The most well-known part of AB 32 is a cap-and-trade regulation; polluters are capped at a certain amount of emissions and required to reduce emissions under that cap, or pay a fee. The big question over the past couple of years has been, What happens to all that fee money?
Enter Assembly Bill 1532, which was just signed by Gov. Brown on Sept. 30th. It creates the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Account within the Air Pollution Control Fund, requires fees collected from polluters through cap-and-trade be deposited in this account, and requires the money to be granted to programs and activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Appropriate categories of activities for investment include renewable energy and energy efficiency, advanced vehicles, water and natural resource conservation, and waste reduction. All around, it provides a transparent, public-engaged process for investing polluters’ fees into sustainable, mitigating activities with a whole host of public health benefits.
By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, other co-pollutants are reduced as well, which has immediate benefits for health. Pollutants such as particulate matter (PM) and ozone are associated with difficulty breathing, lung damage, and aggravated asthma. Investments to sustainable agriculture and natural resource conservation can additionally support natural air and water filtering processes, while increasing carbon sequestration of the soil, improving yields, and reducing dependency on chemical-laden pesticides and fertilizers. By investing in greenhouse gas mitigating measures and programs, AB 1532 provides the means for improved air and water quality around the state, along with a healthier, more resilient regional food system.
Moreover, implementing the mitigation requirements of AB 32 also has a positive impact on green job opportunities within the state. Last year, over $2 billion dollars were invested in clean technology by venture capital firms in California. As a result, California has experienced significant job growth in the green sector compared to other sectors of the economy. Green jobs within the state increased by 36% from 1995-2008 while total jobs increased by only 13%. Estimates show that this growth is primarily dependent on AB 32 being implemented. Finally, if present trends continue unabated and climate change continues to escalate, the total cost of addressing climate change nationally could be as high as 3.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) when health and wildlife costs are included. As understanding of the health implications of climate change continues to grow, there may be additional unanticipated economic and social costs for communities.
While California steps up to tackle the root causes and impacts of climate change, we are reminded that climate change is more than just an issue for the eco-conscious; at its core, climate change presents challenges to almost every facet of our lives, from transportation to farming and increasingly, public health. It’s going to take more than California to tackle these challenges comprehensively, effectively, and in a manner that safeguards our health and puts equity first. But it’s a good start.
 Next 10, “Many Shades of Green: Diversity and Distribution of California Green Jobs”, December 2009.
 Natural Resource Defense Council, “The Cost of Climate Change: What We’ll Pay if Global Warming Continues Unchecked”, <http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/cost/contents.asp>, May 2008.
Lotta Chan, MEM, is a Research Associate with the Community Food and Justice Coalition