California’s Climate Leadership: A Timeline

California embraced climate action 2002 and has never looked back since.

The Golden State has adopted a slew of climate change laws over the past twenty years, and an even greater number of regulations .  To help you keep track, here is a timeline of California’s most important actions.


SB1078. California established first renewable portfolio standard (20% from renewables by 2010).

AB 1493 (Pavley Act). Required the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to set standards for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) new vehicles.


AB 32. Required state to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and gave broad authority to CARB to implement the standard.

AB 1803. Required CARB to create an inventory of GHG emissions.

SB 1368. Effectively prohibited California utilities from using electricity from coal-fired generation.


CARB established Low Carbon Fuel Standard for vehicles.


CARB adopted cap and trade system.


SB350. Renewable energy target raised to 50% by 2030.


SB 32. Requires reducing GHG to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.


SB100. Required zero carbon emissions from power grid by 2045.


AB 1279.  Required net zero emissions by 2045 and an 85% reduction in carbon emissions (not counting offsets).

SB 1030. Requires 90% renewable energy and zero-carbon electricity by 2035, 95% by 2040 and 100% by 2045

CARB prohibited sale of new gas and diesel cars after 2034.


SB 253.  Required both public and private US businesses with revenues greater than $1 billion operating in California to report all emissions relating to their businesses, including those of suppliers and customers.

SB 261. Required companies to report financial risks relating to climate change and how they are being managed.

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A few closing thoughts:  California’s activity began just after President George W. Bush torpedoed climate action by the federal government early in his administration. California seems to have conceived of its role as alternatively a backup for weak federal regulation or a model for future federal action.  California continues to play those roles, but has also taken on a leadership role among U.S. states and even internationally.

Overall, what is most impressive is the steady drumbeat of legislation pushing state policy forward. That would be even more obvious if the timeline included the host of less notable, but still significant, laws passed during the same time period.  There are many things wrong with California, but the state’s deep commitment to fighting climate change is beyond question.

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Reader Comments

6 Replies to “California’s Climate Leadership: A Timeline”

  1. Dan, we MUST find a better way to communicate with and motivate the public throughout the world to make the right things happen because we aren’t making the right things happen in time right now. Our politicians are too busy being corrupt for money, and our intellectuals are just not getting it right.

    Implementing your environmental organization recommendations at Berkeley would be an excellent way, and there must be a lot more ideas that must be implemented TODAY but the Power of Money is too grave a threat today to allow us to survive as the highest priority.

  2. Professor Faber always does a wonderful job of sharing the law and history of climate policy in CA. However, I might add a few entries to his history on CA climate law.

    The first law passed that added the terms “global warming” to the CA legal lexicon was AB 4420 (Sher/1988) that created a coordinating council housed at the Energy Commission to assess climate impacts (or “adaptation” in today’s parlance).

    The second was SB 1771 (Sher/1999) which established the early Climate Registry to encourage early voluntary emissions reductions by industry (Mary Nichols and I both served on that board).

    Notably, both of these measures were enacted under Republican governors not renown for their environmental leadership. Both served as early pre-cursors to the climate laws that followed in the early 2000’s.

    1. Another P.S. that won’t be taken seriously enough in time:

      ‘We are damned fools’: scientist who sounded climate alarm in 80s warns of worse to come’

      He said the record heatwaves that have roiled the US, Europe, China and elsewhere in recent weeks have heightened “a sense of disappointment that we scientists did not communicate more clearly and that we did not elect leaders capable of a more intelligent response”.

  3. Note that leadership is essentially defined as setting goals. Actual emissions remained basically flat from 2010 to 2019 (pre Covid). The one sector with some decline was utility emissions and 30% of that decline was achieved through changes in imports (see Cullenward on resource shuffling on how that was achieved).

    The yawning gap in California leadership is the absence of causal-based independent evaluation of the programs so there is a sound basis for claiming what works and doesn’t work.

    1. I talk about some of the issues you raise in an earlier post:
      I’d define leadership in terms of influencing behavior elsewhere, which I think has clearly been true of California. For instance, China sent people to CARB to find out more about designing an emissions trading system, and Washington has largely followed California’s design. The LCFS has also been adopted elsewhere, and of course California’s car standards are also widely copied.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more