California’s 2050 Greenhouse Gas Emission Goals

Dennis Silverman

Department of Physics and Astronomy

U. C. Irvine


The IPCC has indicated that to achieve a low value of global warming, the greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced by around 80% from 1990 levels, to stabilize the greenhouse gases.  European countries are striving for a 60% to 80% reduction by 2050.  California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has issued Executive Order S-3-05, presented publicly on June 1, 2005, to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. 


The following graph shows how the reductions could occur to reach that goal, from a talk by Steven Schiller, an advisor to the California Institute for Energy and the Environment, University of California, Office of the President.




If we consider that the lifetimes of power plants are around 40 years, and that the lifetime of houses and commercial buildings are around 40 years, anything that we build now and in the future will be around in the year 2050.  Thus, each of them has to be chosen or designed, starting now, to operate at only 20% of the emissions that is currently allowed.  Automobiles have more of a 20 year U.S. ownership, but the large SUVs and light trucks that are being built and initially bought in this country will be very useful for the rough roads and busing or construction transport in the developing countries following their US lifetimes.  They may indeed be on the road for 30 to 40 years.  Thus we need to institute, as soon as possible, 20% emission restrictions on the new mix of energy generation power plants, houses, buildings, and transport vehicles.  Retrofits of existing structures and power plants will not qualify to meet the 2050 goal, since they will probably not be around then.  The retrofitting is desired to further lower greenhouse gas emissions however.  So to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in the next 40 years, we have to average a 2% reduction per year.


Further research and development in the energy area will lead to new efficient processes, but much is already known about how to be energy efficient.  Changes in attitudes and behaviors can also go a long way to reduce energy use and increase efficiency.